T.R, which represents American president Theodore Roosevelt, is a print by 20th-century American artist Jacob Landau. In choosing to depict a man noted for his contributions to the environment, Landau explores some of the themes that came to dominate his career, specifically the relationship between humanism and the environment. However, T.R. differs from the work of Landau’s later and more noted period in that it is not dealing with life or death issues. Throughout the 1970s Landau became noted for his ability to “portray controversial scenes of catastrophes and injustice” (Lurie 38). In his earlier piece, T.R., Landau explores one man’s historical connection to the American environment.
In the woodcut, the figure is presented in a three-quarter profile, outlined by a few simple yet purposeful lines that reveal a defined chin and jowl fat. He is wearing a pince-nez and appears to be squinting sternly; his eyes are just barely open and his eye balls, which are almost exaggerated, appear focused on something not visible to us to the left. In addition, his eyebrows suggest this same intense focus. The strain created from the figure's focused look pushes the eyebrows together as well as creates facial lines to the side of the figure's left eye. There is an implied line that goes from the corner of the figure's left shoulder towards his spectacles but stops for half an inch and then continues to the pince-nez, suggesting that the line is the chain of the pince-nez, an accessory associated with Roosevelt. The figure has a voluminous mustache, markedly thicker then the hair on his head.
In addition to the figure, the work is dominated by a large unidentifiable group of thin vine-like lines that incline left, paralleling the figure's profile. Some of the shapes appear to be leaves of some sort, connected to some kind of stem. There is a small degree of patterning inside some of the spaces inside the stem-like forms, most notably in the upper right-hand region of the design. The naturalistic elements in T.R. may be a reflection on his commitment to conservation, as a pioneering environmentalist during the 19th and early 20th century. As Roosevelt stated, “The movement for the conservation of wildlife, and the larger movement for the conservation of all our natural resources, are essentially democratic in spirit, purpose, and method” (Roosevelt). While Landau is remembered for his prints, woodcuts are noticeably lacking in his later work (Denicola). Therefore, the use of the woodcut further underscores Landau’s interest in environmentalist humanism and its relationship to Roosevelt. Woodcuts are evocative of nature because they reproduce a wood patterning in the final print. Examples of this are evident in T.R. in the hand of the figure on the bottom right corner of the composition. In the middle of the figure's hand there appears a large spiral, presumably a knot from the wood used to make the print.
The utilization of Theodore Roosevelt’s iconic face and the abundance of abstract vegetation suggest that Landau’s interest in humanism was not limited to the scope of human brutality, but also included humanity’s relationship to the environment. The combination of the organic vine-like imagery at the top of the composition and the wood cut patterning both evoke the sense of the natural world and underscore Roosevelt’s legacy as a protector of nature. Furthermore, while not a full expression of Landau’s later concentration on humanism, his print explores the “nature” of Theodore Roosevelt and shows his interest in men engaged in important work on behalf of others.
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[imgae:59796|image-size-small||align=left]Jacob Landau was born on December 17, 1919 in Philadelphia. After returning from a three-year stretch in the American Army (1943-1946), Landau studied art first at the Philadelphia College of Art, followed by the New School for Social Research in New York, and the Académie de la Grande Chaumière in Paris. He spent the next chapter of his life illustrating children’s books, comic books, and advertisements in order to support his art making. He reflected his interest in American history and culture in his early illustrations. In 1942, Dr. John Henry Lyons published Stories of Our American Patriotic Songs which had illustrations of important historical moments done by Landau. In 1957, Landau went from student to teacher and became an instructor at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, N.Y, where he continued to teach two times a week until late in his life (Denicola).
During the late 1960s and 1970s, Landau became recognized through his one-person shows and won a steady stream of awards and grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Ford Foundation, and fellowships from the Guggenheim and Tamarind Institute. With his artistic maturity during the 1960s and 1970s Landau grappled with more weighty issues, such as religious themes and political turmoil (Denicola). He was highly influenced by the traumas of the 20th century, such as the Great Depression and the Holocaust, and the inhumanity that resulted. He was a self-described humanist: he valued human reason, ethics, and justice while he rejected supernaturalism and superstition. His humanism was an important component in communicating humankind’s predicament, from the most painful to most sublime. He called on his humanist identity in his art, especially when he struggled to understand how humanity was capable of evil such as the Holocaust (Sozanski).
Denicola, Linda. “Artist Jacob Landau Gone, but His Work Survives.” New
Transcript. Web. 23 Nov. 2010.
Sozanski, Edward. “Art Visions Stained by the Holocaust.” Philly.com. Web.
23 Nov. 2010.