Jumping out of airplanes in Glenwood Springs
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado ” Gabriel Liston is jumping out of airplanes almost every day. At least that’s what painting feels like for him.
Even after doing it seriously for more than 15 years, when he starts out on a blank canvas, he still has no idea if it’s going to work. In his words, “It’s so scary.”
But it doesn’t take too long to get lost in the paint and the process.
“You’re so busy sewing the chute that you’re not that concerned with the fact the ground’s coming at you,” he said.
Liston, 34, was sitting underneath pieces from his newest show, “We’ll be rich for the rest of our lives.” The oil works are whimsical and colorful, depicting children interacting in various spots around Portland, Ore. and here. The backgrounds are softly realistic, while the characters who live in them are exaggerated, almost cartoonish. The contrast creates something obviously based in reality but still otherworldly. And as Liston described just how and why he creates his work, he smiled and laughed a lot, and had total love in this voice.
“I want to be painting all the time,” he said. “It’s what I do better than anything else.”
With his work, he’s making nothing up. Each landscape or indoor scene is based on his drawings of real places that have caught his eye. In turn, the characters are actual youngsters who he’s sketched running around or playing in altogether different scenarios. He has notebooks full of children dancing and playing war games, as well as images of snow-covered barns in Oregon and train tracks in Glenwood. When he puts these real-world elements together he’s creating his own, dream-like reality.
“It’s a situation that plays with light and punches you in the gut, and I do my damnedest to capture it in paint,” he said, of a typical scene.
Beyond the large canvases, Liston also does his smaller, simpler “blue book tiles.” Painted on sealed Illustrated Classic Editions (classic novels rewritten in a sort of comic book form), they show the same drama as his bigger work, just pared down, mostly without a background.
He explained that much of the inspiration behind all this comes from Dutch genre painting (think Vermeer, Rembrandt and Bruegel), and he enjoys their sense of action and explanation. Like his pieces, theirs take you right into the scene.
“You’re not showing what things look like to show what things look like, you’re showing what things look like to show what they feel like,” he said.
Trying to convey such inexact information, Liston never knows just how these pieces will tournout. But, to him, see ing what happens is all part of the magic.
There’s a reason, you see, why he’s jumping out of airplanes instead of doing anything else. A Glenwood native, he’s been an artist forever and a serious painter since about 17. He’s also done all kinds of work in the valley, from landscaping on. In his early 20s, when he moved to Portland with his young daughter, he worked the same kind of odd jobs for a while, as he was putting himself through the Pacific Northwest College of Art. After, as he stayed in the city and started to raise a family of three girls with his new partner, Danielle, he was still working, teaching mostly. But recently, he’s let all that go. When it comes to work, it sounds like the only thing he’s interested in improving upon is what really matters to him.
“There’s so damn many pictures that I have to see what they look like,” he said.
He added a few things about wanting to connect with people, about how he’s much better with a brush than he is with essays or anecdotes. He talked about how great his family is, from his girls to his all this siblings and parents. He mentioned feeling “copacetic” with Portland and how it was great place to be an artist. But after all this, after an hour and a half, the strongest part of him that shone through was also very simple. He’s just still so in love with the mystery of creation. He wants more, too.
As he put it, “You got to keep doing it, because it’s so damn curious.”
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