2002-01-10 / Front Page

Artist Jacob Landau gone, but his work survives 85-year-old Roosevelt

Artist Jacob Landau gone, but his work survives
85-year-old Roosevelt

Jacob LandauJacob Landau

artist died Nov. 24

By linda denicola

Staff Writer

Roosevelt has lost another very special resident and the art world has lost a luminary. But more importantly, with the death of artist Jacob Landau, the world has lost a beacon a shining light into the darkness of the human condition. At a time like this, with a war going on in Afghanistan and terrorism the "ism" of the day, his vision is more important than ever before.

"I have a strong sense of how man’s inhumanity to man has worked to create the kind of society we live in," the artist said in March 1999 at the time of his retrospective exhibit at the Woodmere Art Museum in Philadelphia.

The exhibit represented the largest group of Landau’s work ever assembled, with more than 150 pieces. Called "Heroic Obsession: The Graphic Art of Jacob Landau," it traveled to the Tobey C. Moss Gallery in Los Angeles and to the George Krevsky Fine Art Gallery in San Fran-cisco.

"I’ve been called a humanist. I’m involved with the tradition of protest that comes from the prophets of the Old Testament. They were concerned with justice and injustice. I am too," he added.

Jacob Landau died on Nov. 24 and is buried in the tiny Roosevelt Cemetery in Western Monmouth County near his friends and fellow artists Ben Shahn and Gregorio Prestopino. He would have celebrated his 86th birthday on Dec. 17.

There was a tribute to the artist, who suffered from Parkinson’s disease, at the Princeton Theological Seminary, Erdman Center, earlier this month. His work, which had been on exhibit all month, was also on display.

According to his friend and neighbor, David Herstrom, more than 100 people attended the service, many of them from Roosevelt.

"Jacob was a lover of Beethoven’s music and played it while he worked. Alan Mallach, a classical pianist from Roos-evelt, played a Beethoven sonata" at the service, Herstrom said.

Herstrom, who owns six pieces of Landau’s work, said, "It is such a loss in my life. As a person, he had tremendous warmth and compassion, as well as a steely intellect. He was entranced with the human form and its beauty. He was sort of a counter to a lot of trivial forces. Forces that trivialize art and what it has to do in our world."

"Jacob’s work was not created to go with a decor or sell for millions of dollars. His work had this wonderful quality of challenging you as well as seducing you. You came to feel that you needed his work. It has an exhilarating quality."

Landau was a witness to the cruelty of human beings, but he had a comic intuition, Herstrom said.

"He was also concerned with the apocalyptic dissolution of the earth. He had a sense of struggle that gives his work a hard edge, like the work of Goya or the poet (William) Blake, who was also a printmaker. He had Blake’s wonderful vision of what the human possibilities were," Herstrom said.

According to Herstrom, among Lan-dau’s greatest works is the Dante Cycle. Created in 1974, it includes seven lithographs illustrating the inferno. Herstrom also particularly admires 10 stained-glass windows that the artist created in 1969 or 1970. Each is 5 feet wide by 20 feet high and dedicated to a different biblical prophet. They are at the Knesset Israel Congregation in Elkins Park, a suburb of Philadelphia.

Rosa Giletti, who owns the Rosa T. Giletti Fine Art Gallery in Pennsylvania, has represented Landau exclusively for the past 11 years, but she had known him for 15 years. Her voice broke as she spoke about him and their collaboration.

Giletti said as soon as she saw Landau’s work, she knew he was a brilliant man and his work was completely unique.

"I found it to be inspiring, invigorating and thought-provoking. His art reflected his intense curiosity about the world, and about people," she said.

According to Giletti, Landau was a Renaissance man. His musical interests ranged from Bob Dylan to Beethoven. He knew every classical artist, every visual artist, and read hundreds and hundreds of books on every subject imaginable

"He was a totally open human being," always humble, kind and sensitive, she said.

Giletti, who visited Landau every day in the hospital during his recent convalescence, said he loved Roosevelt for its openness and space, and that he loved flowers, even the moss on the ground.

"Looking up at the ceiling tiles above his bed in the hospital, he said he saw landscapes. He loved life," she said.

Giletti said she will never forget Landau. In fact, she is not about to let others forget him either. She is compiling an exhibition of his work for Drew University, Madison, where organizers want to house archival and biographical data on Landau.

"They will be a source of information for anyone who needs history on him. We anticipate a large retrospective within the next year or two," she said.

She plans to set up a Jacob Landau Trust Memorial Fund in order to maintain his studio and store his art work.

"Any purchases of his art work will go toward keeping his legend alive," Giletti said.

Right now the studio is open by appointment only. To contact Giletti, call (215) 368-2536.

Herstrom and Landau had been neighbors since 1975 when Herstrom moved to the small community of Roosevelt.

"I was very interested in his work. Together with a couple of other people we founded the Roosevelt Arts Project. Jacob was the first president," he said.

Landau moved to Roosevelt in 1954 after having lived in Paris and then in Flushing, N.Y. There was a group of artists living in town, including the renowned artist Ben Shahn, as well as several writers and folk musicians.

After moving to a house on Pine Drive with his wife, Francis, and two children, he built a dome house that he used as a studio. In 1990 he began living at the dome house.

His wife, Francis, died in 1993. One son, Jonas, lives in Hopewell and a second son, Stefan, lives in Albuquerque, N.M. Landau also had a grandson, Orion, who is an artist in Philadelphia.

In 1999, Landau finished a limited edition book, The Francis Cycle: Some Motions of the Earth. He used his own art and the poetry of Herstrom to give voice to the words his wife spoke as she dealt with the effects of Alzheimer’s disease.

"It is mostly for the people who knew and loved her," Landau had said of the book. "It’s not a commercial venture."

Herstrom said Landau used some of his wife’s phrases as titles to his works. Herstrom was copying down her phrases also.

"She was always part of our meetings. She was included in everything we did and she always made striking observations," he said.

Although not meant to be a commercial venture, the book has been for sale at all of Landau’s shows and can be purchased through the Giletti gallery.

Landau served on the faculty of the Philadelphia College of Art, after which he went on to teach at Pratt Institute, where he became chair of the Department of Graphic Art and Illustration, remaining there until 1980.

In 1975, he also became a faculty member at the Artist-Teacher Institute, an intensive 10-day summer residency program sponsored by the New Jersey Council on the Arts.

His artistic talent was apparent from an early age. He discovered art at around the age of 3 and recalled wanting to draw everything he saw.

As a teen-ager, having found inspiration from artists like Beethoven and the Mexican muralist, Orozco, Landau won five prizes in a juried Scholastic magazine competition for his illustrations of Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book. He remembered hearing his work described as reaching the point of genius.

His first professional work was as an illustrator of books and magazine stories. He won a scholarship to the Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Art (now the University of the Arts), but in 1943 his studies were interrupted by a two-year stint in the armed forces.

When he came home to the United States, he illustrated children’s books, comic books and advertisements to support his fine art.

During the 1960s and 1970s, Landau become known for his one-person shows and a steady stream of awards and grants.

While in Los Angeles, he rediscovered lithographs, creating portfolios like Charades, the Holocaust Suite, the the King of Dreams series and the Dante Cycle.

From the late 1970s onward, the emergence of religious themes became evident. His projects included drawings interpreting and accompanying poetic and other writings on St. John, Jonah, Lazarus, Jacob and Christ. In 1983, he was given a major exhibition at the New Jersey State Museum.

In 1999, he started a group of drawings called Necropolis that expressed his horror at the carnage of the 20th century. He calculated that 130 million people were killed in all of the wars.

Well before the events of Sept. 11, an art critic wrote that Landau’s art presents an image of humankind frequently wrestling with events focused, more often than not, on catastrophe: "The images ask us to put selfishness, cruelty, injustice and greed aside in favor of searching for reason, balance, and faith in justice and human decency."

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