Fran­cis Liv­ingston

Vis­ual vo­cab­u­lary

Western Art Collector - - CONTENTS -

In Fran­cis Liv­ingston’s new show, Ex­pres­sions in Paint, the Idaho painter sets won­der­fully realized and de­tailed fig­ures against flat back­grounds ren­dered in an al­most ab­stract style. Cou­pled with clear and bright sun­light on his fig­ures, this flat ren­der­ing of the background gives the paint­ings a stage­like feel, as if the fig­ures are part of a minia­ture dio­rama and we are the au­di­ence peer­ing through the open side of an elab­o­rately dec­o­rated box.

“I’ve been in­flu­enced over the years by a num­ber of dif­fer­ent poster artists, go­ing all the way back to the old travel posters of the 1930s. That flat­ness to the background or the fore­ground, that’s the way they saw that work. Go back to the early il­lus­tra­tors, es­pe­cially May­nard Dixon…he was very graphic and shape ori­ented, and it trans­ferred to his fine art paint­ing. He took light and shad­ows, and he flat­tened the shapes out to make them al­most dec­o­ra­tive in the paint­ings,” Liv­ingston says from his stu­dio. “It all comes down to where you want the fo­cal point to be, and if you want the fig­ures to be more hid­den.”

Ex­pres­sions in Paint, which opens Jan­uary 11 at Mark Sublette Medicine Man Gallery in Tuc­son, Ari­zona, will fea­ture as many as 20 new works that ex­plore this unique world that Liv­ingston has cre­ated. In Sage Rider, he sets a rider and two horses in a field of sage and gives them dra­matic over­head sun­light, and yet the background and fore­ground are dark, cre­at­ing a mood that al­lows a hint of mys­tery to per­me­ate in the shad­ows.

“I of­ten lay the background in us­ing big and bold strokes, and with that one I kept telling my­self I needed to add branches to the trees, but then I came to re­al­ize I don’t. Peo­ple will know there’s a tree there. Their vis­ual vo­cab­u­lary fills in all of that. They know what you’re im­ply­ing,” he says.

“I’m not su­per­fan of Ge­or­gia O’ke­effe—i’ve ob­served her work and am in­trigued by it—but I was think­ing of her work as I cre­ated these strokes of color.”

In Snow Cross­ing, he paints three blan­ket-wrapped Na­tive Amer­i­can fig­ures on horse­back as they ride through a snowy scene with a thick background that hangs be­hind them al­most like a curtain on a stage. This work and Sage Rider might evoke the Taos So­ci­ety of Artists for some view­ers, and that’s OK with Liv­ingston. “Some have made the com­par­i­son be­fore. I es­pe­cially like the com­par­isons to [Wil­liam Her­bert “Buck”] Dun­ton, who would of­ten put a fig­ure on horse­back and then put this big light on him. It takes you away from the ‘nor­mal,’” he says. “I like to think that’s ev­ery artist’s goal. You have to adapt and go in dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions. Some of it is just let­ting go and fol­low­ing what you’re feel­ing, whether that is through color or forms or what­ever. It’s a bit of fan­tasy.”

Top: Snow Cross­ing, oil, 10 x 16"

Right: Dap­pling, oil, 24 x 24"

Sage Rider, oil, 24 x 24"

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