Born in 1893, Paul Landacre had hopes for a dual career in science and athletics but a severe illness forced a change of plans. Relocating to California in 1922 with sketchbook in hand, Landacre taught himself the graphic technique of wood engraving and by the time Wall Street had laid its legendary egg, he'd played a central role in freeing wood engraving of its lowly status as a commercial art form.
A native of Ohio, Landacre spent most of his life out West and he specialized in the sort of landscape one finds on the cover of Arizona Highways magazine. Like Winslow Homer and Grant Wood, Landacre offers a highly idealized interpretation of the great outdoors and his heroic vistas promise plenty of room to move under God's own sky. Despite the fact that his images are often barely larger than a good-size postage stamp, they convey the grandeur and diversity of the Pacific coast with great dramatic sweep.
Though Landacre is known for his studies of flowers and seashells, this work--reminiscent of the extremely dull photographs of Edward Weston--is far from his best stuff. Those austere still lifes lack the dark, noirish edge that pulsates through his most distinctive work:a series of torrid portraits of big-bottomed women surrounded by lush foliage; the crest of a mountain range kissed by a lip of fire; a creepy scene titled "Children's Carnival" that takes us on a nocturnal stroll down the midway of a small-town fair. This carnival looks like a scene from "The Twilight Zone" and there's an ominous undercurrent about the picture that's common to much of Landacre's work. It comes as little surprise to discover that the artist took his own life in 1963. (Zeitlin & Ver Brugge, 815 N. La Cienega Blvd., to July 26.)