Colombia Geisha and Other Coffee Marvels

We recently had the opportunity to sit down with Sean from the Metropolis Roasterie to ask him a few questions about the new Colombia Geisha. Geisha, in general, has received a lot of press lately, so we wanted to get some more information on what all the buzz is about. Check out what Sean has to say, then stop by the Cafe for a single-brew cup of the Geisha and judge for yourself. We’d love to hear what you think about this coffee!

This past holiday season, Metropolis Coffee began offering Colombia Las Margaritas Geisha. There has been a lot of buzz about this coffee lately. What is so special about this coffee, and why is it more expensive than other coffees?

Sean: This particular Geisha was one of the first ones produced in Colombia. The folks at Granja La Esperanza closely observed the cultivar for a number of years before planting it at Las Margaritas.

The Geisha cultivar was transplanted to Central American in the 1950s and 1960s. Originating from Ethiopia (then Abyssinia), the coffee was brought over because of its resistance to coffee leaf rust (a fungus that is detrimental to coffee trees). However, the trees do not yield large quantities, so, for years, the cherries from the Geisha plants were mixed in with all the other varietals. In 2004, Hacienda La Esmeralda submitted a lot of solely Geisha into a competition where it caught judges by surprise. As a result, producers in Central and South America began planting trees in hopes of producing more of this highly desired coffee.

As far as how it tastes, Geisha is incredibly complex! The aromatics are explosive and the flavor is very distinct. Lots of floral notes and dark fruit sweetness make this coffee quite decadent.

What can the average coffee enthusiast expect out of this Geisha?

Sean: Our customers can expect the distinctive Geisha profile, but at a much lower price; something that is quite special, but isn’t going to break the bank.  We want to continue offering this kind of coffee and helping our customers understand that these coffees are different, but affordable.

Why did Metropolis decide to offer a coffee like Geisha?

Sean: We wanted to offer something that is new and exciting. Obviously we stand by all our coffees — but offering a coffee like the Geisha is something that we have never done. With it, we’re starting a new program where we bring in interesting/rarer coffees so that they’re accessible to everyone. We are going to continue to offer these higher end coffees — maybe 3 or 4 a year — and sell them in more affordable 8oz bags. This gives our customers the opportunity to try new coffees that, before, might have been cost-prohibitive. We also hope that this will help our customers learn the importance of transparency with our products (the farm/estate/cultivar/region/etc.). We hope, in this way, that our customers will be able to make more informed decisions.

One more question: How would a customer be able to enjoy these coffees most? That is, how should they be brewing Geisha at home?

Sean: Single cup brewing is highly encouraged (Chemex, Clever, pour over, French press). But we also understand that not a lot of people have these types of brewing mechanisms. Single-cup brews of the Geisha are currently available at our Cafe, and we are going to be offering more brewing equipment and education in the future. I’m excited for Metropolis to grow and for our customers to grow with us!

Music Returns to Metropolis in 2013!

One of our resolutions for 2013 was to get the live music program restarted. Well, it’s happening!

Thanks to the hard work of Jonathan, our music coordinator, Metropolis is proud to present the January/February schedule for live music at the Cafe. Each 2nd and 4th Wednesday of the month, look for a performance — it will be a great way to get you over the hump-day!

January 2013:

     Pops Martin

     January 9, 6pm – 7pm




     Jerry the Bear

     January 23, 6pm – 7pm




February 2013:

     Brady Wells

     February 13, 6pm – 7pm




     Krystalle Franz

     February 27, 6pm – 7pm




Join us every 2nd and 4th Wednesday as we get this exciting program up and running again. If you have any questions about the monthly music program or if you are interested in performing, please contact Jonathan:


“Transforming Metropolis”: Brian Truex at the Cafe

Detail “Learning to Fly”

The current art exposition at Metropolis Cafe is titled “Transforming Metropolis.” In this collection, Brian Truex, an artist who resides in Edgewater, invites his viewers to explore the wonder and mysteries inherent in life.

Truex’s arresting pieces force one to take notice, which is his intent for these works. Last week I had the opportunity to sit down with him to discuss his work and get a window into his creative process and goals as an artist.

Regarding the symbolic nature of his art, Brian had this to say, “Writing is difficult, especially about my creativity. I’ve always struggled with it. I’ve never been comfortable with the ability of language to describe or convey what I’m pursuing as much as an image does. Why I say ‘confirm my natural affinity’ is because my earliest experiences of art were as a kid. Representational art is what I was most exposed to. As a kid you’re not trying to figure it out. I always saw representational art as metaphorical of something else.” This artist’s journey into his craft was intensely personal and infused with spirituality.

“The Seeker”

“The starting point is always the same, losing my mother to cancer. The birth of my creative process was the loss of my mother. Art became a priority to explore the mysteries of life,” he says. “My first decision was to go back to school and get my MFA. I always had an innate sense of the sacred nature of art. When I first got into school, I thought I’d try anything. My mother was an educator and instilled in me the value of education. I knew she’d be happy that I was in back in school. So I knew I had to get my MFA. I experimented a great deal before discovering my natural abilities in painting and drawing.

“Before mother passed away, I was not a spiritual seeker. I hadn’t decided to make art my focus or priority at that point. I would have described my spiritual life as empty. Religion was not a main part of my life growing up.  After that experience I said ‘I want to have a deeper, stronger, more spiritually significant life.’ For me that was the beginning of a self-discovery journey. How do you render your personal, spiritual journey? It IS intimate and mysterious. For me they belong together.


“When I first started out, I thought I was seeking something outside of myself. I think when you’re young you have a strong sense of otherness between you and the phenomenal world. You’re stuck in this awe moment but spiritual maturity is the fundamental understanding [that] the spiritual mystery is within you. I can’t tell you when it happened, but it definitely happened,” he continues. “The self discovery of spirituality comes down to allowing. I don’t believe in forcing. It’s something you have to allow yourself to nourish. It is a personal choice, it is effort. You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink. Having said that, it is important for me to create work that draws people in. It really comes down to, ‘Does the piece have presence to draw you in? Does it make me want to walk across the room and spend some time with it?’ If it can’t at least do that, then we can’t even begin to have a conversation.”

So what is the transformation that Truex hopes for in his viewers of “Transforming Metropolis?”

Joseph Campbell hits the nail on the head when he says transformation of consciousness is what it’s all about. If you can get somebody to stop and pay attention to a moment, that is a transformation of consciousness. Art makes you absolutely present in the moment. As the artist you know how essential that is for your life, but if you can’t share that with another human being then what is the point? Knowledge and wisdom: the difference is transforming someone else’s life. If you are creating something that gives respite for the moment; that’s what its about.

“You know it’s possible.  What more can you ask for?”

Brian Truex’s “Transforming Metropolis” will be at Metropolis Cafe through December 12.  Come in and challenge yourself to be transformed.

Hullabaloo Holiday Blend Available! + New Merch

Debuting this year is a brand new blend crafted by the Metropolis roasting team for the 2012 holiday season. Hullabaloo Holiday Blend is silky and sweet in the cup with fruit notes and a heavy body. It’s a combination of seasonal South and Central American coffees with an Ethiopian twist. The roasters assure us that “joy and spirit reverberate throughout” this exciting new offering.

Also new merchandise has already dropped at Metropolis Cafe. You’ll find the classic Metropolis logo travel mugs and ceramic mugs, as well as some new offerings.

This holiday season Metropolis Coffee Company has introduced hand-crafted coffee mugs by potter, Joshua Heim. Joshua says of his work, “Mugs are one of my favorite  things to make — they are such a simple piece of pottery, yet we invite them to partake in the special moments of our lives: Our morning coffee routines. A cold, rainy day on the sofa with a blanket. Or even just an evening with a close friend. I hope you enjoy the mugs and let them wander into those special parts of your lives.”  We hope you enjoy them, too.

Check out more of Joshua Heim’s work.

Metropolis Coffee at “authentically artisan!” Streeterville Market Nov 10-11, 2012

Good things going on soon! Come and see us at the “authentically artisan!” Artisan Market Streeterville 2012. Admission is free and the goodness is everywhere with more than 50 vendors working with some of Chicago’s favorite “food artisans,” including yours truly, Metropolis Coffee Company!

We’ll be manning a full-service espresso bar with lattes, cappuccinos, espresso shots, drip coffee and fresh-roasted coffee beans, of course. See you all there!

More info here and here’s the Artisan Market Streeterville on Pinterest!

Problem Viewing? Download Image Here! PDF_All_Food_Save_Date_FINAL_10.04.12

First Customer at Metropolis Cafe–Ever!

One cold, early Saturday morning in 2003, Philip Hale became Metropolis Cafe’s first paying customer. He was won over by the same charm that so many have experienced here since.

When Hale, vice president of government affairs at Loyola University, walked in, comfort was the first word to pop into his mind, he says. “It looked like you could get a cup of coffee and curl up with a good book, work on a report or just hang out with some friends,” said Hale, even though the coffee house was empty at the time. The second thing he noticed: our serious selection of teas, something he hadn’t always been able to find at other coffee shops. Yes, it’s true. Metropolis Cafe’s first paying customer ordered a sandwich and a cup of English breakfast tea–not coffee.

Hale used his 20 minutes as our first-and-only customer getting to know our co-owners, Jeff and Tony Dreyfuss. After this brief time, he knew the cafe was going to be a student favorite and he was right. We’re glad to welcome students from our multiple local universities.

DYK?: Metropolis Cafe even has extended hours during Loyola’s finals week so students can squeeze in some extra-caffeinated study hours.

We’ve made regular improvements and updates to Metropolis Cafe since Hale first sipped that English breakfast tea, but you get the same quick, friendly service from patient, accepting and non-judgmental staff. Our baristas know what they’re doing as far as the coffee, but we also put a premium on seeing the person behind the customer and taking a moment to say hello.

When he walks into the cafe these days, Hale sees a lot of changes since that first day. From major remodels to rotating monthly art shows, he’s seen the life of Metropolis Cafe from the beginning to today, and we appreciate it deeply. Although he is not the regular customer to the degree he was when living nearby, Hale is still friends with the Dreyfuss’s and even helped reintroduce Metropolis Coffee as part of Loyola’s catering option with Aramark during their contract renewal.

It seems that Hale’s first order of tea at Metropolis Cafe wasn’t last and we look forward to serving him–and you–many more.

Metropolis & Aspire: Two Peas In A Pod

We are proud to announce that we will now be offering beans from our BFF non-profit partner, Aspire Coffeeworks, through our regular wholesale channels. We roast the beans and the folks at Aspire take care of everything else, advancing the lives of countless adults with disabilities along the way.

Both Aspire Roast and Aspire Bold will be offered and, being that Aspire Bold is the darkest coffee we roast here at Metropolis Coffee Company, this is going to be a product dark-roasted coffee lovers will love. “Aspire Bold is the only French Roast we do, so if that’s what you want, here’s your chance,” says Metropolis Coffee Company co-owner, Tony Dreyfuss. “Why do we do it for Aspire?

“We decided to stop doing dark roast about five minutes after they committed to it, so we decided to continue this coffee for them,” continues Dreyfuss. “Now, we want to help expand the Aspire CoffeeWorks program and wholesale is a terrific way to create employment opportunities, exposure for Aspire programs and much-needed revenue for a non-profit operating in difficult economic times.”

Wholesale Customers Click Here for Aspire CoffeeWorks Sell Sheet.

Not A Wholesaler? Buy Aspire Here!

Aspire CoffeeWorks: The Company

Aspire CoffeeWorks: The Cause

More On Aspire

Here’s the Aspire CoffeeWorks mission and the cause they’ve undertaken is to “help people with disabilities to aspire and reach for their dreams.” We’re so down with that, it’s incredible. We talked to Aspire’s vice president for advancement and one of its founders, Erik Johnson, about what they do and why.

“We created this company so that we could accomplish a couple goals,” says Johnson. “We wanted to create a social enterprise that allowed people with developmental disabilities to be qualified and work jobs within the community.

“We also wanted to create a real, viable consumer product, not something people buy because it’s charity, but really great coffee. Originally, we talked about doing a bakery and we started to think, ‘Why would we want to do that?’” says Johnson, candidly. “Later, Jim Kales (Aspire’s CEO) and I were sitting around drinking coffee and thought of it and it took off from there.

“Then we found Tony [Dreyfuss], who’s been instrumental in that we wanted to make money for the organization and create jobs, but to also see how people with developmental disabilities can be involved in community and have jobs. It’s been an eye opener for the public, people are really interested.

“We can explain what a person with developmental disabilities can accomplish in a new way, the coffee business allows for that,” says Johnson. “How do you get people engaged in your mission and who you are? For us, the goal is to go further than social service and on to real life application.”

Johnson also points out there’s more to Aspire than Aspire CoffeeWorks, but it’s a marquis project for a number of reasons, he says. “From a business perspective, we’re excited to have this opportunity to present this really great product to the Metropolis wholesale customers, it’s a great opportunity for us. We’re excited because, as we grow our sales, we can train and hire more adults with developmental disabilities. It’s a great way for us to introduce this product to an audience who already knows Metropolis and, hopefully, that results in additional coffee needed and we can hire more folks to make that happen.”

Yes, We’re BFF’s

“When we started this project, we tried to think about who we could work with before we opened our doors,” remembers Johnson. “We talked to a couple of companies who were hesitantly willing to talk to us until one day I picked up the phone…I knew of Metropolis, knew it was an amazing product and Tony was the one person who called me back within a day. Our first conversation was an hour long. He got it and was as excited about what we wanted to accomplish as we were.

“Jim Kales is my boss and, when we were first planning it, we thought we’d roast our own coffee, but we couldn’t have found a better partner who’s supportive, got it, and understands how important it is to give people with developmental challenges opportunities.

“Tony hires from us and we work side by side with the Metropolis staff. The impact he’s helping us make and he’s making in the lives of adults with developmental disabilities is amazing. I’m not just saying that, it’s just a million-percent sincere.”

Act Now. Support Skateboarding. Stop Violence.

Deadline: Thurs., Aug. 2, 1:03 a.m. EST. That’s when it’ll be too late to help “kickstart” a documentary film project that’s been near and dear to our hearts here at Metropolis Coffee Company since the day Ryan Ferguson first walked in the door and began to tell us about how skateboarding is a sport that can reach disenfranchised urban youth.

Our co-owner, Tony Dreyfuss, is a lifelong skater and this hit close to home right away. Legendary skateboarder Tony Hawk has donated, but whether you’ve skated or not, this is a story you should hear, and that deserves to be funded and told, we think. Because for a lot of these kids, it’s literally either “Skate Or Die.”

Not Just Names

If you don’t get it at this point, you’ve got your head in the sand. In Chicago, the murder rate has skyrocketed to unprecedented levels in 2012 and it’s quite clear that if the collective “we” doesn’t get serious about it, the violence will continue and spread in a heartbreaking web of death and destruction throughout the city, claiming victims left and right. It’s already happening.

But where there are hopeful people, there is hope. “The way it started was I read an article in the [Chicago] Tribune about this new breed of skaters coming from these horribly dangerous neighborhoods, finding skateboarding as a figurative and literal escape,” says Ferguson. “I grew up skateboarding in the 90’s in a totally different setting, and it resonated with me what skateboarding could offer kids in these situations.

“I followed a couple of kids around the city for a couple of years, and then one of them got shot and it took a 90-degree turn, became very real, but then grew into something bigger,” continues Ferguson. “Leo had witnessed his brother get shot in front of him as a kid, had no role models, never got a high school diploma, locked up for graffiti 100 times. Then, when he was shot in the calf, they were telling him he wouldn’t be able to skate again, which took away the last refuge he had.”

Instead of just letting go, Castillo “…helped build a skate park in Little Village, out there 40 hours a week,” says Ferguson. I filmed him in the alderman’s office asking for $100,000 to do next phase in the skate park, then he began working with an after-school program four days a week.” In short, he adapted and survived, but this isn’t a story that ends…it’s life.

“He’s doing pretty well,” says Ferguson of Castillo. “He’s alive and skating again, but still lives in the same dangerous neighborhood, still struggling to live and get by. As much as it’s an inspiring story, there’s a grim reality there that it’s not easy to escape from and we had multiple blunt reminders of reality during filming,” recalls Ferguson. “He was creating permission slips for his programs in this computer lab and nonchalantly starts telling me about getting jumped the week before, how he wrestled away a knife and ran away. No matter what positive things happen, that is the persistent truth.”

More Than A Sport

The skateboard community has kicked in to support this project. The aforementioned Hawk even tweeted about it to his three-million-plus followers, but it needs to be a local effort to stop the violence. Ferguson has coordinated with the folks at CeaseFire, a stop-the-violence initiative here in Chicago, but they’re “…fighting their own battles, trying to stay alive” he says. “To be straight about it, we need to tap into concerned, progressive citizens with expendable income.”

If that’s you, feel free to stop reading, click here and go ahead and donate. Then come back and keep reading so that you know EXACTLY where your funds are headed:

“[The goal is for] the film to get edited by a world-class editor and be a film that’s seen far and wide, but I’d also like to turn it into a sort of permanent outreach where we use it in schools, partner with other skateboard programs, bring deliverables to kids–whatever means we can propel off the film, that’s been part of it since the get-go,” says Ferguson. “It’s not just about telling an inspiring story about a kid attempting to overcome the odds, really want it to be a launching point for a larger outreach of some sort.”

And to do that, “Kickstarter needs to work because it’s the way the story can be told,” Ferguson continues. “We have an editor on board, but it costs money. I spent months looking for the perfect editor with feature and documentary experience, also somewhat young with a pulse on the culture and found the perfect person. I edit a lot of my own work, generally, but I’ve been shooting this for four years and am too deeply involved–I’ve shot well over 100 hours of footage. Not to say I’ve lost perspective, you start to lose touch of the way a story needs to be crafted.

“I do think this is a really important story and the violence here is horrible. I don’t want to it’s say unsolvable, but you read about people complaining about not enough police and these tangential issues of the actual violence, which is due to economic and racial segregation, stuff you just can’t fix overnight,” says Ferguson. “That’s why a group like CeaseFire is so successful. They’re not trying to end gang violence, but save one person at a time and I’m looking at my project like that, too. One kid’s story could inspire one other kid and make it all worthwhile.”

Why Skateboarding, Not Baseball?

Look below the surface of all this, at why skateboarding could very well be the sport most capable of making a difference, and it gets…apparent. Obvious. Glaring, even.

“Skateboarding is unique in how perfect of an outlet it is for these kids,” says Ferguson. “It’s just got that grit, that street kind of underground element to it. They form tight-knit skate crews and, without making too direct of a parallel, they almost have a gang-like, familial quality that draws some of those most vulnerable kids, who don’t have role models and live on streets where gang leaders are their role models, to it.”

This included Castillo and his friends: “They witnessed people getting killed in front of them at five- and six-years-old, ages where you can only imagine the trauma,” says Ferguson. “Every one of these kids have experienced that at some point and they get desensitized to violence at an early age, so they’re easy to prey on. Even Leo, as much as he’s trying, is a violent kid. He fights a lot and he always has. If it weren’t for skating, I think he’dve been lost a long time ago.” Want to play a part by donating at least a $1 to make sure that doesn’t happen, click here.

Why Get Involved?

Like he said, Ferguson didn’t grow up in the Chicago neighborhoods where the worst of this epidemic of violence is occurring, but he’s four years into what he calls his “roller coaster project” and it just keeps evolving.

Ferguson has been working professionally for about 10 years. He recently completed a documentary on stand-up comic, Hannibal Buress, which was purchased by Comedy Central and will appear as a feature on the DVD.

As we said at the beginning of this post, this project resonated with us from the start. “In terms of Metropolis, Tony was a supporter years back when I had no story, just this idea, this theme of these kids using skating as an outlet,” says Ferguson. “I know he’s a long-time skater and I had some test footage that resonated with him and he was really supportive early on. Metropolis threw a big party that helped fund the production, so they’ve been along on this for a long time and it’s really awesome to have local partners as great as them.”

Hope we’re not self-glorifying there, but we appreciate the kind words and encourage all other business owners and citizens to consider helping this project happen. It just takes a second to CLICK HERE and donate whatever you can. Don’t just read about the violence; help to stop it.

Other Links:

Again, the Kickstarter page.

Twitter: @skatedoc

Homicides This Year To Date In Chicago.

Maddiebird Bakery Cupcakes At Metropolis Cafe

And, yum. We’ve all been enjoying the Maddiebird Cupcakes we now have on sale at Metropolis Cafe thanks to our friend and neighbor, Michele McAtee.

Here’s an ever-growing gallery of photos for you to ogle, and we’ll continue to add to it as she comes up with new ideas, which is daily. Thanks for supporting local business and thanks for coming by Metropolis Cafe! Find out more about Maddiebird Bakery here and “like” them on Facebook here.

Attention to Detail: The Life’s Work of Kevin Landis

The various works of art by adopted Chicagoan Kevin Landis, currently on display at Metropolis Cafe, are just some of the artistic fruits of his lifelong fascination with–and dedication to–the production of art no matter the time, tithe or toll.

Meaning, what you see on the walls at Metropolis Cafe represents a lifetime of work that gathered intensity and focus when Landis spent three years working on one ballpoint pen drawing…from 15 to 18 years of age. Since then, he’s just continued to spin threads and now we may behold the finished tapestries.

“I’ll have drawings accumulate over the years and certain images start bubbling up and I take them and run with them on a large scale and it becomes a statement of where I’m at over time,” says Landis. “It’s not a very efficient process. I’m not churning these [large-scale pieces] out all the time, a lot of times they’re the tip of the iceberg. I let the drawings, watercolors and pastels continually flow. There will be dozens of efforts in sketchbooks, small-scale studies and color sketches. It gets to this point where I feel like there’s a kind of metaphor that I really want to crystalize, make it into something that has a sense of summing up everything I’m trying to get at at that time.

“They only come out once a year, or every other year. It’s not like, ‘I gotta have a show.’ The paintings come up when they’re supposed to,” finishes Landis, who can talk for hours and isn’t really finished at all–either thinking, talking, teaching or, at the base of it all, creating art.

His Work: tiny to BIG

This in-born intensity has ended with Landis being comfortable in a wide range of mediums and scales. He ranges from giving decades-long attention to the smallest of pieces while turning out large-scale murals, one of which you can check out anytime at the UIC Medical Pavilion. What’s the difference between a work of art Landis hangs on the wall and one he applies to the world at large?

“I started doing murals because I didn’t like the idea of someone buying art and a few people seeing it,” says Landis. “It’s not the same as my studio art, but the skills are connected. The content, the source material, there’s always a need for that.

“[The murals are] a way of having a counterbalance from the extreme detail and layering [in my other pieces],” he continues. “I try to let the still lifes be the vehicle for my tendency to get more and more involved at the surface, each microcosm. It’s constantly going inside [the piece of art] and that tendency can lead to obsessiveness. It’s not a predetermined thing, it just has to work.”

Introspective at a high level, no doubt, Landis admits spending that much time alone in pursuit of your work (“I’d look into the pores of the paper with a ballpoint pen and I had to let go of that process,” he says.) is fraught with, well, freight. “Something about working alone and not so much with other people keeps your ego a bit childish,” he says. “It’s a lifetime choice, which I have done. I could have gone into medicine or science, [but] always had a love for this and a desire.”

His artistic philosophy? “The work must have a sense of being, a presence,” he says of his work, but he’s also realistic and this should give every artist a non-self-critical pause: “I know that art work can do that; not all does,” he says. “But it’s magical when it does happen and it’s completely unpredictable. I get a lot of failed attempts, but when it works, it’s unbelievable.

“I think it worked with the pineapple; it’s staring back at you,” he says of one of the pieces we’re featuring at Metropolis Cafe. “Aome are more about a story accumulating over time and the paint is more the vehicle for that story but in the still life the paint isn’t the vehicle, it’s the essence itself; [it has] it’s own presence.”

With the still life work on display, especially, you’ll see Landis’ commitment to layering and repainting, and probably see or feel hints of sculpture in these works. The display includes four distinct sections: impress drawings, still life works, animal portraits and in the back room there’s a “large-scale metaphorical painting with a dream-like sense that’s evoked over time and I try to encapsulate where I’m at existentially.” Right?

Life: It’ll Throw Ya For A Loop

How do we all get where we’re going? Our paths are mutable, if set on certain courses early in life. For Landis, these formative years were both incredibly tough and, in the long haul, rewarding. “I had German parents who were very, very strict…and i chose to be undisciplined. I got a lot out of it, but I hated aspects of it.

“They were first generation immigrants with several German bakeries in Baltimore who’d retired and hadn’t been able to have children, but wanted to contribute something to a family,” Landis recalls. “My own father was schizophrenic and died and we were committed to foster homes, my brother and myself.”

“Probably a very good thing I got from them was doing something for a bigger purpose than just your genetic instincts, there’s a bigger family in the world,” continues Landis. “They had a sense of us all connected in some way.”

For Landis, that connected ended up with him being able to follow his calling and enroll at the Maryland Institute College of Art, where he obtained a degree that included a stint studying in Germany at the Braunschwag. This became influential in that it gave him a deep respect and feeling for the essence of art and awe at the moment of its creation.

Landis recalls a desire to consume and make art as a first memory kind of thing, from the age of three onward. As mentioned above, he began doing “really detailed ballpoint pen renderings,” which consumed his artistic output during high school. “I was so tight, I couldn’t think about using paint and letting things happen. [I had to] come back to it years later and with more experience.”

But some of those early experiences were integral: “I grew up on a farm and would go out and draw nature, take objects and put them in tableaus: animals, people, leaves, corn cobs, things I liked to look at and interpret in drawing.”

He grew up outside of Baltimore, in Hartford Country, but always felt “…like I needed to be in a city. I was missing something.” He definitely took care of that need in 1984, moving to Chicago. Since, that conflict between the actual visual landscape of country and city has also informed his work, says Landis. “It’s about there being a balance somewhere and I think the organic objects and shapes [I create] are a ritual way of going back to the forms of nature I miss living in the city.

“There’s something about the simplicity and honesty of that [rural landscape], things that in a city we take and interpret and decorate our homes with, getting back to that raw thing, the idea of ritually celebrating. I think, in an way, I’m collecting and creating stuff that reminds me of that.”

Art From Life

He feels it was mission accomplished in this respect with his mural at UIC. “I wanted to create sense of panoramic view of various topographies of nature, an underwater, safari,” says Landis. “The animals are out of scale based on your point of view.” To keep it interesting over time, thanks to shifting perceptions per the viewer’s vision and mental state. He’s working through the process to do a mural at the Evanston Medical Center, as well. That project, and the animal portraits on display at Metropolis Cafe, came from time spent recovering from an operation.

“I was going through operations on my leg and I’d take my sketch supplies and had idea of doing these animal portraits as a fundraiser [so I could do] larger parts of UIC Medical Center. I started doing these things while recuperating and easy to do because of the scale, had to do them in a hospital bed at first, and they just kept going.

“The really simple subject of a face looking back at you with the animal eyes and maybe because still lifes don’t have that element of a living thing, [they're] more about color and form, they can have essence, only goes so far. more the color, form, texture, layer,” says Landis. “They’re almost human, not but right there; animals [are] unencumbered by abstraction of thought process. It’s more direct and honest.”

These days, he’s making art as actively as ever. He’s also teaching. “I feel good about teaching,” says Landis. “I didn’t want it to be something I did because I didn’t know any other way to get a paycheck, but I’ve gotten there from a place of not needing institutional support, on my own terms.”

However rough the road, it’s evident Landis has lived his life on his own terms, following his artistic instincts to hone in on a project to the exclusion of all else while not forgetting to emerge into the greater human equation every now and then for some more…essence.

See more of Landis’ work on his new Facebook page.


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