When describing his paintings, Gabriel Liston often uses words commonly associated with cinematic film creation: shot and frame, story and sketch, backstory and narrative. Many of his works—small paintings rendered in black-and-white or color—depict scenes from real events taken from the artist’s life.
However, once painted, these moments from Liston’s life—due in part to their modest scale and a pervasive illusory quality—become surreal vignettes, yet remain remarkably knowable or nearly remembered. Each painting resounds with an intense yet unimposing painterly depth, both psychological and technical.
For an upcoming exhibition, Liston painted a number of small panels based on his research into an early-20th-century reclamation project in northwest Portland, Oregon, of which Pence and Huber (2013) and Reid at the Lewis and Clark Exposition (2014) are two.
These panel paintings appear as two in a sequence of countless negatives taken from an editor’s desk. His small paintings—imbued with dynamic yet smooth movement—are also reminiscent of an animator’s layouts for a film, comic, television show, or illustrated book.
The young man—presumably Reid—in Reid at the Lewis and Clark Exposition looks headlong from the frame, toward the viewer, and displays complex facial and emotional body language. Reid appears at once shy and on the verge of embarrassment, yet simultaneously mischievous and thoughtful as though he knows the mind of both the painter and the viewer. Liston accomplishes these subtleties with a few elegant brushstrokes. The use of subtle black, white, and gray tones gives Reid and the scene depicted a nostalgia that feels strongly uncontrived.
Another pair of paintings, 10 September 2013 Evening and 14 September 2013 Early Evening (both 2013), this time painted in color, detail moments and places the artist experienced during a ten-day canoe trip on the Upper Missouri River as part of the Signal Fire Residency Program. These paintings convey an intrinsic emotional and aesthetic immediacy, one that Liston evokes with wide brushstrokes and nearly abstract areas of color and line that coalesce to form rich landscapes—again, like shots or still frames from a larger production yet to be edited.
Experiencing Liston’s paintings is like traveling to a distant place only to be reminded that you’ve already been there— a process that is slow, revealing, deliberate, and wonderfully imaginative, almost dreamlike.
Gabriel Liston is an artist living and working in Portland, Oregon. He has a BFA in Painting from the Pacific Northwest College of Art, Portland, OR. Liston’s work has been exhibited in numerous group and solo exhibitions throughout the United States and internationally in cities such as Portland, OR; Denver and Aspen, CO; Red Hook, NY; and Northampton, United Kingdom. He is represented by the Plus Gallery in Denver, and the Froelick Gallery in Portland, OR.