Standing next to 57-year-old Mississippi native Mark Landis in the watercolors aisle of a local art store, the words “master art forger” are the least likely to come to mind. Bald, stooped, and slight of voice, Landis looks more the part of a paint-by-the-numbers hobbyist. And yet for the better part of thirty years, this unassuming figure managed to dupe nearly fifty art institutions in over twenty states into accepting forged art works. Many still don’t know they’ve been tricked. Referring to himself strictly as a philanthropist, Landis never profited from this particular compulsion since he always “donated” the works in honor of his deceased parents or a distant relative. His ruse was also abetted by the unassuming appearance of the man himself – which he habitually refined by dressing as a Jesuit priest. By the mid-2000s, Landis had set up a veritable assembly-line production of forgeries that he created from the comfort of his dim bedroom. In a process that was, no pun intended, deceivingly simple, Landis picked a painting from a museum catalog, made a color copy at an office supply store, affixed it to a small piece of wood, and then drew over it with a mixture of color pencils, paint, and even magic marker. While large institutions usually sniff out such forgeries in seconds, Landis donated to small, regional museums that usually accept such at face value. His works are often copies of little known, nineteenth-century American impressionists, and why on Earth would someone make fakes of such a thing? He is clearly not your average high-stakes forger, which is exactly the kind of cover he thrived upon. The life and journey of Mark Landis is one of the weirder tales that The Avant/Garde Diaries has profiled, and yet it is also one of the most intriguing. A Rain Man-esque character, Landis might not have the most calibrated moral barometer, but through a singularly bizarre creative will and a notable penchant for theatrics, he will likely be remembered more than the iconic painters he made a career of forging.
Directed by Terri Timely / Produced by Brady Welch & Sophie Harris / Edited by Amanda Larson / Photography Direction by Donavan Sell / Sound Design by Rich Bologna / Music by Keith Kenniff / Production Coordination by Ayesha Janmohamed / Transcription by Simone Tolmie / Audio clip provided by Local 12 WKRC-TV / With special thanks to John Gapper
Update – the filmmakers have now posted this “deleted scene” (below)
And finally, some additional info in this (2-year-old) New York Times article.