As a professionally trained fashion illustrator living in a small New York apartment for twelve years, Joanne Landis, in her free time, scaled her paintings accordingly, on traditional-sized canvases. But during an artist in residence stint at the Virginia Center for Creative Arts she was given a studio that had once been a horse barn. It would prove to be her eureka moment.
“I unrolled an entire roll of canvas (over twenty feet of material),” she recalls, “and just worked for a month.”
She hasn’t looked back.
Captured on huge canvasses, her vivid images, peopled primarily with strong and vibrant women, tell a story, often from mythology. And this season at the Williamsport Community Arts Center (CAC), patrons of the performing arts can experience a rush of Landis’s work in house, as she is the CAC artist in residence for the 2016-2017 season. There are many artist in residence programs in theaters across the nation, but, generally, a visual artist would have a place in a venue for visual art, like a museum or college gallery, and a performance artist would have a slot in a place like the CAC, where they might write a play, direct a movie, or teach acting. The artist in residence program in Williamsport is more unusual, bringing into the performance realm as it does a visual artist. It began in 2009, when Carla Fisher, who is currently the CAC’s director of Marketing and Creative Design, reached out to the community of artists in the area, looking for an artist to design the season’s program cover. To be the artist in residence for the center, the artist must use the theater as the inspiration for that program cover, which is distributed at each show. The chosen artist also fills the theater with paintings, which are for sale throughout the season. With a welcome and goodbye reception and an essay about the artist in every program, the CAC introduces the artist in many ways to the public. Says Carla, “The artist in residence program is a great way to showcase our talented local artist who may not take the stage, but equally light up the theater.” Joanne Landis agrees—she knows of no other theater that has such a program.
Joanne’s journey to rural Pennsylvania is as unique as her art. Her home studio in Troxelville, Snyder County, is, she says, “an amazing accident.” She was still living on the Lower East Side of New York City when her sister and brother-in-law decided to look for a house in rural Pennsylvania to retire. They ended up buying a house in the tiny town, and Joanne visited them there. It did not suit them, and they eventually relocated to North Carolina, but Joanne found a place to put down roots. It seemed a little crazy for a professional artist to move from a neighborhood of vibrant artists in New York City to the country—so crazy that Joanne didn’t sleep for three months as she was in the process of moving to Troxelville. But it was just the vision and space that Joanne needed. She found a farmhouse, with a barn to create a large studio, so necessary for the work she was now creating. In looking at a timeline of her work, even the casual observer can see the transition from the grayer color scheme in the New York years to the more vibrant colors of her paintings today.
She has done many exhibitions nationwide and sells in galleries as far away as San Francisco. But it was at an exhibition at a café when Williamsport first charmed Joanne, and she began exhibiting at galleries in town as the art scene there grew. She now has a studio in Williamsport’s Pajama Factory, where many of her larger pieces are mounted in the halls. At the new installation at the Community Arts Center, her large canvases, and some of her recent smaller canvases, grace the lobby and mezzanine. In her Williamsport studio, she explains that what is on her canvas at the beginning can change or even disappear, as the story emerges and the figures begin to tell their tale. She generally works on a couple of paintings at one time. As she slows down on one work, the creative energy is transferred to the other. Physically powerful, her canvases are filled with deep emotion, with action and life.
And this season, to great acclaim, they play the Community Arts Center.