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Front Porch: Making art to fit the furniture

By ELIZABETH BETTENDORF
Published June 4, 2004

Lisa Landsman advertises her business this way:

"Original art in your style and color palette."

That means she makes art to match your sofa.

Lest all you art snobs out there work yourselves into a frenzy over what some collectors deem a cardinal sin, listen up: There's something to be said for buying art that goes with your life possessions.

"I probably drastically change my decor every five years because stuff goes out of style just like a wardrobe," she says. "It's fun to switch out artwork and use paintings that have the same hard-to-match colors of your house. Plus, some people are intimidated by galleries."

Landsman is a 33-year-old artist and biologist who works as an animal registrar at the Florida Aquarium. That means she researches the scientific names, medical records and tank requirements for a new resident, like say, a leafy sea dragon.

"Kind of geeky, but I love it," she says.

An artist since childhood, Landsman lives in Tampa Palms with her husband, John, and 1-year-old daughter, Adelaide. Her mother is of Spanish and Cuban descent and from a family that owned a cigar factory and a grocery store in Ybor City. Landsman grew up on Davis Islands, went to Plant High School and then Florida State University, where she chose biology over art "because I didn't want to be a starving artist."

After college and gigs researching Everglades sawgrass for the Southwest Florida Water Management District and primates for a Jane Goodall research facility at Lion Country Safari, Landsman took a job with a guy who owned a business that sold reproductions of art masterpieces over the Internet. Landsman painted her share of Picassos, van Goghs and Kandinskys before she thought, "Hey, I could be doing this for myself."

Only with a twist.

Now she'll paint you a Picasso - but in the hot pinks or warm earth tones that match your home. She's painting a Georgia O'Keeffe right now for a client who wanted her to swap the artist's intended blues and pinks for tans and browns to match an ultrasuede bedspread.

She's painted a pet parrot Andy Warhol style in four versions and four different color schemes. At the moment, she's obsessed with "mid-century modern" painters and has reproduced a line of them in bright, primary colors to offset the Art Deco furniture from her grandmother.

And reproductions aren't all she does.

Lately, people have commissioned her to paint birthday gifts for loved ones, original paintings that match the recipient's home decor, filled with sentimental references. A folk-art style painting for a client's mother was filled with flamenco dancers and castanets, reflecting the woman's heritage.

Another client, a Hillsborough County Sheriff's deputy, owns an abstract painting depicting his patrol car and badge amid colorful abstractions of a camouflage pattern.

People have asked her to reproduce album covers, a classic car, a great pattern on a sofa pillow, even postcards.

Po' Boys Creole Cafe commissioned several paintings to match the decor of a party room, and her painting of a reclining woman hangs over the bar of the Czar nightclub in Ybor City.

"It's a vodka bar and I wanted the painting to have the look of an old Russian propaganda poster," she said.

And the Florida Aquarium has commissioned a few paintings of fish and wildlife.

A perfect match for a biologist who moonlights as an artist.

Shouldn't animal paintings be next?

Though she did paint the famous osprey that hangs out on the Davis Islands bridge for a client and giant insects for a recent show at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, she sees herself continuing to move in the home decor direction.

"I'm marketing myself to interior designers," she explains. "If they need a painting to go with a design, I can do it."

Masterpiece or not.

[Last modified June 3, 2004, 10:51:06]

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