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Portfolio Review: The Art of Houston’s Fugitive Picasso Vandal Uriel Landeros

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We recently learned the identity of the man who was caught on camera stenciling Picasso’s “Woman in a Red Armchair” as it hung on a gallery wall at Houston’s De Menil Collection earlier this month. He’s 22-year-old painter Uriel Landeros, and he’s currently on the run from Johnny Law. But, as noted Picasso vandal Tony Shafrazi has taught us, one day Landeros might be a powerful dealer and/or a sought-after artist, so we shouldn’t dismiss his work outright; at least not before looking over his Facebook photos of his paintings.

This vibrant oil painting, by far Landeros’s most accomplished to date, not only features the same Picasso-inspired image of a bull and bullfighter that he stenciled onto the de Menil canvas, but juxtaposes this primal, ritual duel with symbols of humanity’s fundamental split between male and female traits. At the center a muscly-armed, coded-masculine figure flexes in a typically patriarchal assertion of physical dominance, while a series of womb-like swirls in the lower-right-hand corner suggests that this all-seeing eye-god may also be a kind of hermaphroditic fertility deity.

The circular, blue, target-like forms spreading from the center of the canvas to the left are clearly allusions to the malevolent evil eye portrayed in the art of ancient Mediterranean cultures, while the sun-like sphere at the top of the composition references Kinich Ahau, the Mayan sun god. This web of contemporary, pre-modern, and ancient allusions epitomizes the postmodern quilting that characterizes Landeros’s practice, albeit usually in less elaborate terms.

In this piece a central figure, apparently some kind of pagan deity with a vaguely crustacean face — a possible allusion to the early-20th century sci-fi creature Cthulhu — commands two deer-like creatures, which may in turn be a reference to one of the numerous pre-Christian narratives that were borrowed from to create the figures of Santa Claus and his reindeer.

At either side of the deer are two smaller hybrid figures with bodies resembling the cartoon-influenced drawings of Keith Haring, while their bird heads invoke the god systems of the ancient Egyptians. Both of these bird-men appear to be shouting at small, indifferent owls that, being merely owls, don’t understand their cousin creatures’ presumably spoken commands. The surrounding swirls of reds, blues, and greens — and a patch of lily pads floating on scorched waters — are likely intended as an environmentalist commentary on global warming.

In this smaller canvas Landeros incorporates an impressive range of symbols with a relative economy of means. On the right side of the composition sperm cells rush towards the circular, swirling egg in the bottom-right-hand corner, symbols of life, but also Freud’s death drive, and the Sartrean existential crisis induced by self-awareness — or what Lacan dubbed the “mirror stage.”

At the center of the composition a large sun expresses hope for the future — possibly one in which the world runs on solar energy — while a floating eye contained within an equilateral triangle invokes the shadowy forces of the Illuminati. Landeros is articulating the impossibility of omniscience, the death of god, and the inescapable end of the universe.

This flower painting is a reference to Georgia O’Keeffe, while the swirling gray backdrop alludes to the rolling clouds of Vincent van Gogh’s “The Starry Night.” The ambiguous flower type conjures a conflicting bouquet of interpretations: its bright red would evoke romance and passion if it were a rose, but its glowing yellow center suggests a different reading; red is also a color of remembrance, while the bright middle suggests sunrise, rebirth, and rejuvenation. Red and yellow are also colors associated with fire and heat, of course, and their emergence here from a green stem could be seen as Landeros’s way of tapping into a culture-wide anxiety of apocalypse — itself merely a collective externalization of our individual fear of death — or the plight of agricultural workers in the drought-ridden Southwest.

Keep painting, Uriel, wherever you are. You’ll get your solo show at Shafrazi Gallery someday!

— Benjamin Sutton

(All images courtesy the artist, via Facebook)

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  1. by Citizen Cope

    Superb article! Only you’re closing should have been…”Keep vandalizing, Uriel, wherever you are…since your art couldn’t make a name for itself.

  2. I hope the let him paint a mural on the walls of his jail cell. It could be interesting to see his visual interpretation of the agony and ecstasy of anal rape.

  3. You Ramon X Sir, are an idiot. You believe everyone in jail gets anal raped?! Wake up dumbass.

  4. great article from an open minded insight instead of all the bashing that has been brought on to Uriel from other typical views. WAKE UP. its always a new day and time.

  5. you’re a moron. typical views? this guy was a piece of shit that defaced a priceless work of art probably just to elicit this exact reaction. it might have worked if he was at all talented, but i could shit out a painting that’s better than what he’s pawning off as art.

  6. haha yes typical views. i cynically love how typical of you it was to write that comment. same as the guy who thinks every one gets ass raped in jail. that is why we need more bold individuals. we cant continue to abide by all the bullshit we were born into, as most of the distracted misleaded and misinformed people do on their every day lives.tsk tsk tsk

  7. jazzeera,

    his work is derivative. his influences are obvious. what he did was unconscionable. if he had killed the last african elephant, or bengal tiger for the same reason, would you defend him then? because what he tried to do was the same. he tried to make that statement, that moment caught on canvas, extinct. he deserves to go to jail for what he did. the vicious jailhouse rape, would only be a bonus for the artists, activists, and young people he marginalized by his stupid, unoriginal, and pretentious action. though i’d imagine he’d only be forced to toss a couple of salads.

  8. My understanding is the Houston police are doing a thorough investigation, as the cameraman and tipster are considered (potential/probable) accomplices. I hear they are digging into text messages, Facebook accounts, etc. to find out how many people knew about this beforehand and looking into who knows about Landeros’ whereabouts. Anyone with knowledge about any of it should get ready to find themselves a lawyer.

    And you, jazeeera,, are making it pretty obvious about your connections to this loser. Only his friends think this is cool. THE REST OF THE WORLD SEES THIS PIECE OF SHIT FOR WHAT HE IS.

    Maybe not everyone in jail will get raped, jazeeera,, but I’m betting you just might be… And by the way, dumbass, this article is being ironic about Landeros’ “talent”. If you had half a brain, you would see the subtext of the “open minded insight” regarding his paintings. DUMBASS!!! (In fact, you’re so completely moronic, it begs the question: are you Uriel himself, defending your own stupidity and trying to convince people that there’s actually a discussion of value behind this assholeism?) DUMBASS!!!

  9. jesus christ don’t go giving this fucktard a platform for his art oops too late

  10. Daniel
    we could have a very interesting conversation…communication is what we have all fucked up. check the way most people project things, especially in terms of disagreement…he did try for a killing, but i guess most don’t wanna understand it, they just wanna hate on the kid who vandalized the old painters big penny painting. besides i guess its not even a big deal, but it has given people something to talk about…
    cyberlot, you narc. i know you have greater issues to take care of besides dedicating your self to be the asshole you live up to be on a daily basis, we all do…
    shit they might as well take everything away, bring it on SOPA and PIPA… peace

  11. Guys,

    Why don’t you vent your fury and derision at Benjamin Sutton??
    Without his blurb you wouldn’t even have heard of Uriel besides the one day news of his act..admired by the likes of Sutton as “transgressive” art.

    What a feverish imagination Sutton has: mixing Freud, Sartre, Lacan..but he cannot even spell Georgia O’Keeffe’s name correctly..

  12. this guy’s art is on a 3rd grade level. why would anyone give him props?

  13. Since he has no respect for artists’ work who came before him, I will never respect his art. In fact, I plan to deface all his art if and when they are publicly displayed.

  14. by tezcatlipoca

    wake up , history was made by lost people that cant let go with the flow of nature and need to steal everyone else ARTifacts and put them on walls and alienate u from u. and thats only what we see, imagine what they stole that they only keep…akashik records in our minds, is all a lie fake plastik simulation of life , sum people can see thru this bullshit soon the people will realize that our history as one is written in ourselves not on these walls of colonized elitist burgoise brainwashing us. el nagual

  15. by tezcatlipoca


  16. fuk the new world order

  17. This is some of the most ridiculous and pretentious drivel I have ever read. To imagine that this joker has any notion of “Freud’s death drive, and the Sartrean existential crisis induced by self-awareness” is an exercise in absurdity. Perhaps his flower “could be seen as Landeros’s way of tapping into a culture-wide anxiety of apocalypse — itself merely a collective externalization of our individual fear of death” or perhaps sometimes a shitty flower is just a shitty flower.

    Furthermore, giving this clown a platform and taking his obviously underdeveloped work seriously is folly. He was looking for his 15 minutes. Please let it pass. Perhaps he can develop his art more fully from his jail cell, maybe even have something relevant to contribute to the art world. For now,he is a loser who couldn’t get any attention for his work without vandalizing the art of a master.

  18. Oh wait – this is a joke? Thank Cthulu!

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