At first glance, Landon Sheely’s work has a playful, old-timey quality, but if you look a little closer you’ll notice that his work is politically-charged, socially-conscious and above all, human. His inspirational prints read like manifestos for those who crave justice and humor in equal measure. We chatted with Landon to find out what the purpose of art was, once and for all. Luckily, he had an answer for us.
Thanks for letting us invade your creative space! Where are you from and how did you get started?
I’m currently living and working in La Crosse, Wisconsin. Before I knew what it was that I saw in it, I had an attraction to packaging and old ephemera. I surrounded myself with antique prints but didn’t realize until later what it actually was I was looking at. Now I look at old packaging and study the process and the fun ways that it went wrong. Poor registration is actually a huge source of inspiration for me. And honestly I’m not sure I ever consciously made the decision to make art. I think I decided I could do design work and call it my job, and then I started turning down freelance jobs so that I would have time to work on my own projects.
And you work on these projects from a home studio right?
I have a big workspace in the basement of a local coffee shop called The Root Note, which makes it really easy to lock into the studio for extended periods of time. I do most of my printing there with a risograph and a little screen printing setup. I do most of my painting, drawing, inking, and smaller relief prints from my home studio.
What is it that inspires you and keeps you moving?
Other than the process of printmaking and it’s tactile nature, I’m mostly inspired by justice/injustice. I feel like for the last two years, every piece I’ve created has been a response to immigration. Something as simple as a minimal painting of a house comes about because of my frustration with people’s inability to realize that Arizona was Mexico only a moment ago. Tolstoy has this line in What is Art? that goes “…the evolution of feelings takes place by means of art, replacing lower feelings, less kind and less needed for the good of humanity, by kinder feelings, more needed for that good. This is the purpose of art.” I don’t know about the “purpose of art” or anything, but I like it and it inspires me.
What’s the most fun thing about making art?
Creation. Getting messy and trying things out and attempting, often struggling, to pull an idea out and maybe show it to someone. Sometimes something gets you psyched and nobody cares about it and that’s super fun, and other times you like something just enough to run it by some people and they love it and that’s super fun.
Have you had a really intense learning experience or educational moment as an artist?
I think that surrounding myself with art has helped me to see art everywhere, which makes you look at everything differently. You see the sky more, and you notice cracks in the sidewalk. I remember as a child, the grass growing through a crack in the sidewalk was a big deal, it smelled a certain way and for some reason I loved it. I forgot that feeling for a while but have started noticing it again and it feels really good.
What parting advice do you have for the new blood out there?
Always put work in, keep learning and digging in and getting dirty, but don’t wait until you’re comfortable. You only need to know enough of a process to get started, then you get to manipulate that process and make it do what you want. I’m sure I’m not the only person scanning in relief prints, scaling them up, pitching them through the riso, and then screen printing the result, but there also probably isn’t any formal training for that, so don’t get nervous about a lack of knowledge – just dive in and you will get comfortable and find your own process. Also, art is everywhere, it isn’t just for galleries. Public art, legal or otherwise, is important.