Art and Craft: A Documentary of Unusual Healing

Author: Joni Agronin - 9/18/2014

Art and Craft PaneL to R: Jennifer Grausman, Sam Cullman, Mark Landis, Colette Loll.

Mark Landis’ paintings have been hung in museums around the country. You can find his work in galleries alongside Picasso, Monet and Matisse. But you won’t find the initials “ML” in the corner of any canvas. No, you’ll see Picasso, Monet, Matisse.

Landis is an art forger—one of the best ever. But for Landis it wasn’t about the money or fame, it was more like putting on a magic show. And for Landis it wasn’t even a crime as he never saw a cent from any of his forgeries: he simply donated them.

The documentary, Art and Craft, follows the life and work of Landis as he provides us with a window into how and why he recreates these works of art and how he deceived proprietors of art galleries and museums across the country.

Landis created multiple aliases in order to pass his paintings off as authentic. Even creating back stories including the death of his fictional sister. He says, “Necessity is the mother of invention, but sometimes the stepmother of deception.”

Inspired by all things classical—movies, music and works of art—Landis uses examples from these artists, characters and individuals to rationalize and defend his craft. For Landis, copying pictures is a gift.  It is something that he enjoys and uses as a means of healing. 

He gets a rush, the same way a magician does when performing an elaborate trick when a piece he has created gets displayed for the world.  He sees himself as a philanthropist and his ploys are so successful because of the sympathy he is able to procure from the individuals he intends to trick. 

For many years Landis was the caretaker for his mother. Her passing was extremely difficult and replicating famous works of art was his way of managing grief, as well as doing something that he hoped would make his mother proud.

Landis also happens to live with schizophrenia, something that represents only a small part of who he is but does not define him and for that reason, he is a role model for all of us.His desires to feel respected and to fit in are natural human instincts, things that any person would want with or without a mental illness. We applaud Art and Craft for being able to showcase how an individual living with mental illness can find meaning and motivation in life, even in unexpected places. 

NAMI held a screening of the documentary at the NAMI National Convention in Washington, D.C. in early September and the support we received from viewers was inspirational. 

Convention attendees were given the special opportunity to meet with Landis, along with producers of the film, Sam Cullman and Jennifer Grausman, and art fraud expert Colette Loll who were at the screening to respond to questions. Many people responded with support, admiration and gratitude for sharing such a unique story.

The screening was in the main ballroom at convention but felt more like an intimate living room setting with the level of emotion being shared between audience members and presenters. One woman, whose young son also lives with schizophrenia came up to the microphone and brought tears to the audience as she expressed that hearing Landis’ story gave her hope for her son’s future; that he could become successful and live a fulfilling life.

Those who have been tricked by Landis may still see him as the bad guy but this film paints a picture of an unexpected underdog with incredible talent whose thirst for community and purpose in life is something that resonates with all of us.

Art and Craft premieres Friday, Sept. 19 in select cities. For information about how you can attend a screening of Art and Craft visit the film website.