White on Black: The Modernist Prints of Paul Landacre

The “brilliant chiaroscuro” of these Depression-era prints marks them as “special and singular.”

Pasadena Museum of California Art

Through Feb. 24

Paul Landacre was a backward thinker, said Kirk Silsbee in the Pasadena Sun. The Ohio-born artist (1893–1963) specialized in woodcut prints, a medium that requires carving a negative version of the image intended to appear on paper. A quaint pictorialism dates some of the two dozen or so small Depression-era prints currently showing in Pasadena, but their “brilliant chiaroscuro” marks the works as “special and singular.” Despite the difficult times he worked in, an optimism pervades Landacre’s imagery: These prints “exalt the human condition” and “often dance.” He could capture the downtrodden, but seemed drawn more to the world’s magic—the balloons and tiny nighttime lights of Children’s Carnival, a reclining nude reading in an open doorway (Sultry Day). The contrast is striking between the painstaking demands of his process and the lightness of his touch.

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“Two of the artist’s favorite subjects were landscapes and the human form,” said Scarlet Cheng in the Los Angeles Times. California’s terrain dazzled him when he moved West for his health in his mid-20s. In Smoke Tree Ranch (1932), massive mountains fill the frame, and the titular house and barns are “tucked into a slope like bumps on the body of a giant.” In Coachella Valley (1935), brooding peaks loom over a line of passing freight cars. As you move from work to work, it becomes hard to discern the difference between rolling hills and the “undulating curves” of Landacre’s female nudes. In Demeter (1954), “figure and landscape become conflated, and a reclining female torso—breasts, leg, and arm—becomes hills and valleys.”

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