IF THE NAME R. LAND doesn't sound familiar, perhaps the Atlanta-based artist's "Loss Cat" poster might ring a bell.
Speckles the “Loss Cat” is pictured above a painfully funny handwritten description on a flyer that appears to have been photocopied one too many times. The image populated not just the overpasses of Atlanta, but New York, Seattle, and beyond. Clothing store, Forever 21 even put the flyer on T-shirts.
One might think Speckles was born from the Internet age of cat memes and viral content, but no. The piece was established in 2001.
“How it took off, when it did, it’s pretty incredible. It went viral before going viral was a thing,” said Jenny Hawkes, the curator at The Butcher Gallery, where “Landmarks”, a collection of Land’s work is currently on display.
Land has been doing for 30 years what memes have only recently begun doing— instigating a conversation with a mass audience.
“Some of what I do is based on a dialogue and on communicating with the public at large,” Land said.
He began the conversation in the ‘80s by pasting up images around Atlanta and selling merchandise with his characters at local stores.
The visual world of R. Land is full of bright colors and his signature scrawling drawing style, something akin to calligraphic doodles. His ever-present humor—a quirky mix of a goofy, childish sensibility and a dark, subversive edge—fluctuates between whimsy and sharp social commentary, with splashes of his southern roots throughout.
In the early years “Little Bunny Foo Foo” was his lifeblood. Land remembers the impression the character made.
“People would be like, ‘Man, you are so sick and twisted. That’s so weird. I love it.’ And now there are so many things that are way crazier. But, back then, especially in this region, it was a nutso-looking thing.”
“Little Bunny Foo Foo” preceded the early 90’s cultural zeitgeist that produced a genre of animation geared more towards adults than kids. The Simpsons, Ren and Stimpy (which some of Land’s characters were mistaken for after the show’s premiere), and Beavis and Butt-head irreverently paved the way for the Adult Swim network, which Land has worked with many times over the years.
Cultivating offbeat cartoons isn’t where Land’s legacy ends. Looking at the collection of work on display, it’s clear he never sat in one place for too long.
“I’m always experimenting. It’s good and healthy and keeps everything fresh,” Land said.
Mixed in with his ‘viral’ works —including the iconic “Pray for ATL” logo— are graphic posters, many promoting events in Atlanta as Land is a passionate advocate for the local scene and small businesses. There are numerous paintings, ranging from large abstractions to pieces featuring his distinctive style of characters.
Other highlights include a car hood and a basketball hoop cloaked in Land’s drawings.
The show is a celebration of the concepts that sustained and advanced Land’s career. It provides a moment for the artist to appreciate the icons he brought to life.
“I sometimes think of some of that stuff as being so commonplace because I’ve made thousands of pieces of ‘Loss Cat’ and ‘Pray for ATL’ and the ‘Scuba Divers’, but it still continues to live and actually lives larger than ever. I can’t believe that they keep on giving,” Land said.
The Butcher will host a closing reception for “Landmarks” on Thursday, October 30 from 7-10pm. Land will be in town for the event and said that he would even bring more pieces with him.
Inspiration for the closing came “from some of the promotional work that he’s done for Aqua Teen Hunger Force,” Hawkes said. Angel’s BBQ will provide meatwads and frylocks, while Hawkes will whip up milk shakes. “Those are the big characters of the show and we figured since they are food, we would serve them for people to eat.”
This almost creepy twist in the menu is perfectly part of the fantastic world Land has built.
“When I back off of it, I’m like, ‘Man, this is hilarious stuff.’ If it wasn’t for the dialogue and the fact that I can make a living doing it, I would look at it through different eyes and say, ‘What am I doing?’”
Even with his success, Land is rooted firmly in the city he loves and in his down-to-earth lifestyle. Just as in the beginning of his career, Land is still the one out at 3 a.m. pasting up “Pray for ATL” images.
“I’ve kept it real all the way through,” he said.