You Are Still Alive: La Crosse artist’s messages of solidarity are painted on whatever he can find

Eric Christenson

BLOOMIN’ ART. La Crosse-based artist Landon Sheely will show off his paintings and prints at the Volume One Gallery in downtown Eau Claire throughout July and August.
BLOOMIN’ ART. La Crosse-based artist Landon Sheely will show off his paintings and prints at the Volume One Gallery in downtown Eau Claire throughout July and August.

A typical Landon Sheely piece can sometimes have several layers of his work underneath. The La Crosse-based artist is keen on using found items instead of canvas or sketch paper – but when it feels right, most things will eventually get painted over with something else, some newer idea. The same rusted metal sheet might have years and years worth of paint on it; you only see the most recent iteration.

“I don’t think I’m going to solve any of these problems with an image, but I hope that I can encourage a single person, or somebody can see it and be inspired by it, feel a little better, and have a better day.” – Landon Sheely

“My favorite thing is going out and walking old trails and finding rusty garbage and taking it home and letting it sit there until it wants to be worked on,” he told me. “A lot of times when I’m really happy with something, I don’t feel like I forced it. But sometimes I feel like I ruined the piece when I put something I don’t like as much on top of it.”

Sheely’s workflow is allowed to be fluid like that, thanks to the recent uptick in cool small businesses in La Crosse’s downtown center, which is evolving similarly to Eau Claire’s. Sheely’s artistic touch gives these new brands strong, unique visuals and the credibility that comes with that.

Sheely’s workshop is located in the basement of The Root Note, a hip-as-can-be organic café that doles out beer, crepes, and live music in equal measure. He’s essentially The Root Note’s resident artist as he cranks out hand-painting signs, menus, merch, Instagrams, and whatever else is needed for both the café and a charming farm-to-table spot called The Mint, which the owners of The Root Note opened in 2014. His wife Kareena co-owns Prairie La Crosse, an awesome boutique vintage shop adorned with Landon’s handwritten typography. These small businesses are a few of the sharp examples of La Crosse’s downtown evolution, and one thing that all of them have in common is Sheely’s visuals.

“There are a lot of cool small businesses in La Crosse that are feeling loved enough from the community to open up, roll the dice, and take a shot at it,” Sheely said. “The young people who are creating these businesses, even if they’re not out there painting, are the ones that are like, ‘Paint on my business. Come and put this here. Let’s make this pop. Let’s do something with it.’ We have this community that’s helping each other out and helping each other build things.”

So while Sheely works daily to make cool stuff for these La Crosse hot spots, he’s got time to make his own personal stuff too, and he’s got a lot of it. His basement studio gets cramped when there are more than a few people down there, but he has a small screenprinting unit where he churns out prints and shirts, while painting signs and found items with his signature style – skulls, flowers, and messages of encouragement.

Look no further than the 16-foot mural Sheely got to display at the Eaux Claires Music & Arts Festival earlier this month. It features an underground skeleton, drawn in cartoonishly goth imagery, flowers sprouting overhead, with the Dinos Christianopoulos quote “They tried to bury us, but they did not know we were seeds” etched in between. He’s made some seriously cool work for artists like Charlie Parr and Eau Claire’s own Arms Aloft (“It’s fun to get to be involved with the Arms Aloft record because I don’t have to be on stage,’ he said. ‘They do all the scary work and I get to be like ‘Sure, I’ll draw a picture for you.’”).

Sheely’s work is often imbued with a theme of hope and resistance – resisting the stifling and overbearing powers that be, wherever they might be found. The messages and insignias can be overtly simple, like “slow down” or “you are still alive” while others have more weighty meaning like “no border, no nation,” “hope is a burning rage,” or a “refugees welcome” leaflet he printed and gave away for a rally in La Crosse this past winter.

“Overall I think people are alright and they can work together pretty good, but powerful bad people are really loud so people think that they’re winning all the time,” Sheely said. “I don’t think I’m going to solve any of these problems with an image, but I hope that I can encourage a single person, or somebody can see it and be inspired by it, feel a little better, and have a better day.”

Many of Sheely’s prints, found works, and that huge Eaux Claires mural will be on display at his upcoming gallery exhibition at The Volume One Gallery, which opens with a reception on July 7. He’ll have tons of work on display from new prints that haven’t been sold anywhere yet to monoprint works to rusty metal paintings, and the reception will feature a musical performance by his La Crosse compatriot D. Janakey.

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