Bob Landstrom is a painter who uses the decidedly unique medium of crushed volcanic rock to conjure ancient civilizations, esoteric knowledge, and a rich strain of hybrid spirituality that cannot easily be placed, yet resonates with a universal familiarity.

Over the course of several decades, Bob has steadily refined his technique—while adding to his burgeoning knowledge of archaic wisdom, non-western religious practice, and other related fields—allowing him to produce an expansive, highly cohesive series of paintings marked by a distinctive style.

Across a wide range of appealing colors, he has assembled a constellation of recurring imagery, including animals, letters/word fragments, diagrams, symbols, and glyphs.

These elements in combination—with letters sometimes arranged to suggest headlines or titles, and symbols presented as formulas, swirling around realistically rendered creatures—form their own pictorial universe. And always, the arresting style is what bursts through these gritty tableaus—as in literal grit, bristling across the canvasses by way of trowels, knives, nails, and custom tools.

For all their visual bravura, though, Bob’s paintings are so dense with allusions and symbols that it’s hard to look at them for long without feeling that one is being presented with a puzzle to solve or a code to decipher. Yet the “meaning” or the “secret” is elusive; each of his paintings is composed as note taking, which in itself is at the heart of what defines his work overall.

“I think every person is a kind of transceiver to varying degrees, depending on where they’re from and how they live,” says Bob, “which is reflected in the fact—among other ways—that certain images or symbols are universal and occur in vastly different civilizations all over the world and throughout history.”

It is in this spirit that Bob approaches his work, as a channel or a vehicle—painting with a clear mind, and responding to spontaneous impulses that emanate from some combination of subjective tendencies and external signals.

And it’s more than fitting that the key agent of Bob’s work, which like all art might be called a form of alchemy—transforming emotions and ideas into artifacts—is volcanic rock, that most alchemic of substances, once part of the earth’s molten core that became solid, ending up in his hands, and put into the service of artistic production.

Bob had the benefit of an art education that was both rigorous and eclectic, attending Carnegie Mellon University, known for its classical/traditionalist orientation; and the School of the Museum of Fine Art in Boston, whose multidisciplinary, individualistic approach was the antithesis of CMU.

For all his formal training and continual self-study, Bob is an artist who wears his learning lightly. It’s definitely there in the work, but it seems mostly beside the point, given the sheer visual pleasure and spiritual potency of his art. Undoubtedly, though, it’s no small part of his secret, in forging a body of work brimming with a special kind of allure.