I first had the pleasure of viewing artist Francis Livingston’s work when the L.A. Art Show was first held at the L.A. Convention Center. Barker Hanger, Santa Monica had hosted the show for several years. The larger convention venue was vast in comparison. After wandering through what seemed like endless gallery booths, coming across Francis Livingston’s paintings was a welcome treat for my eyes. I was smitten with his architectural colors and imagery. Each year I attended the L.A. Art Show, I made an effort to locate Francis Livingston’s work. I was delighted to learn over time that Arcadia Contemporary represented this fine artist. That did not surprise me, given the quality of artists they represent and their philosophy. (See earlier blog article on Arcadia Contemporary.) I just had to learn more about this inspiring artist. When he agreed to this blog interview, I was ecstatic. It is an honor to present this interview and recent works of Francis Livingston. Please take a moment to enjoy learning about this talented contemporary artist, his style and preferred painting tools and view samples of his works. Q. What is your style of painting referred to? For my art students, would you please describe what this style means or represents? Classification of my style is always a difficult thing. I’ve had various interpretations of the work in discussing it. It falls into the categories of Realism, Impressionism, Expressionism and with some of the later work for Arcadia Contemporary, Surrealism. 1. Realism, for my paintings, is the simple idea that the images are always based on some form of interpretation of actual objects, people, buildings etc.
2. Impressionism and Expressionism, because I never depict anything exactly as it is. I create my own realism.
3. Surrealism, for my work involves juxtaposing objects and creatures of various sizes and shapes into scenes that would otherwise be considered “normal”, but are considered somewhat surreal because those objects are in an unusual and fantastic setting.
Q. Your recent work features juxtaposing architecture with animals. May I ask, what is the story or inspiration behind your choice of subject matter? The latest surreal work for Arcadia came from various discussions and conversations with its owner and director, Steve Diamant. Steve knew several things about me. He knew I had worked as an illustrator for a long time, and that I was a fan and collector of comic books. So, although I had been interested in this world of imagination for a long time, I never had the venue before now to pursue it.
Basically, Steve gave me the freedom to explore the world of fantasy but interpret it in such a way that it would appeal to collectors of fine art. Right now it seems like I’m working with whales a lot. They have the right sense of scale and intelligence so they work in the urban settings of the paintings. My latest ones involve theater interiors. There are endless possibilities with this direction, so it keeps me excited about each new painting.
Q. My students are interested in the latest tools of the trade. May I please inquire your preference for paints, brushes and grounds? Is your work on cotton or linen canvas? What brands and types of paints and brushes work best for you? Do you ever make your own paint or have custom pigments made to order for any of your projects? Do you finish with a varnish or leave as is? Almost all my work is painted on wood panels. These have a “cradle” or sides to them so they can appear to viewers as stretched canvas or linen. I have in the past worked on canvas but prefer the wood for several reasons. I like the rigidity of the surface. There is no give or flexibility as in canvas. The other thing is, I prefer a smoother gessoed surface that I create instead of the nubby or grain texture of canvas and linen. I have tried most surfaces including paper, so at some point I’ll return to a surface other than wood. The wood is 1/8 inch Baltic birch so it has a nice smooth grain to apply gesso and then paint.
I never mix my own paints. The brands I use are varied. Some are Williamsburg, Old Holland, Windsor Newton, Holbein, and almost all brands at one time or another. They all have different properties. Some have more hue in them, some are transparent, some have a thicker creamy texture and others are thin.
I also use Alkyd paints, which I mix with the regular oils. They have a resin in them that speeds the drying time. That really helps me because I lay the paint on the board fairly thickly at times.
I regard brushes as disposable tools so I use them and don’t take care of them as many artists do. I don’t say this as an example that should be followed, it is just my way of simplifying my work methods so the most time is spent on the creation of the painting and less on cleaning and organizing my studio. I use all shapes and sizes from the tiniest oo size to house painting brushes I buy at the hardware store. Other tools I use quite often are scraping tools, sides of cardboard, playing cards or old credit cards. These allow me to move the paint around the surface in a different way than brushes allow.
I use retouch varnish at different stages of the process. This returns the surface to a more vibrant look while I am painting. When I’m done and the painting is dry, I use a Final spray varnish, usually gloss or satin. That evens out dull spots in the paint and creates some protection for the painted surface.
Q. At what age did you realize you were an art spirit? I’m not sure if there was a moment. It all goes back to comic books and wanting to draw them. I realized at a certain point I was better at manipulating paint than telling stories in sequential form. There was also a moment of realization that I really didn’t know how to do anything else. I never had another choice in my mind. So, probably from age 8. Q. Did anyone try to talk you out of fulfilling your dream as an artist? If so, how did you handle it? No. My parents were always supportive. They didn’t understand the process and hard work needed, but I never had any negative reaction about making art a career. However, I early on treated both the illustration work and painting as a business. It was fun and rewarding, but always a business so that creates a different reaction in people because there is a sense you can make a living from your art. Q. How did Arcadia Contemporary and you become acquainted? My relationship with Arcadia started with meeting and knowing Steve Diamant when he was director at another gallery. He left that gallery, started Arcadia and called me and asked if I wanted to show in New York. So I was in the original group of artists at Arcadia. Q. What tasks does a gallery like Arcadia Contemporary handle on your behalf? The gallery represents the artist, so the gallery should be professional as it reflects on the artists it reperesents. An excellent gallery such as Arcadia does several things for the artist. Not all galleries do these things. 1. Advertises in various art magazines, creating and designing those ads. 2. Handles the work in a safe manner so paintings and their frames are not damaged. 3. Sells the art and collects payments from the sales. 4. Keeps and updates collector contact information. 5. Delivers and ships artwork to collectors. 6. Enters and participates in various shows and art fairs outside of their main gallery locations. 7. Communicates with the artists as to what paintings are successful and why. The bio below, sums up the artist and his muses: Francis Livingston is fascinated with dramatic architectural structures. Using oil on wood panels, he depicts antique roller coasters, rhythmic effects of water towers on old rooftops, unique configurations of yesteryear’s movie theaters and amusement parks, as well as the dramatic effects of scale as oversized construction looms over a subdued city. The artist honed his skills in Northern California, working as an illustrator, where he absorbed the Bay Area look — bold and free impressionistic brushstrokes, emphasis on shape rather than on line and an abstract approach to realism. Yet, the tone of Livingston’s art — its most essential characteristic — is in the vein of the Ash Can School of the early 20th century. Ash Can painters, such as John Sloan, created haunting vignettes of cityscapes in thickly applied brushstrokes, with a dark and muted palette to project the feeling that pervades how isolated an individual feels in a large metropolis. Livingston, too, render portraits of urban realism — attractive and impressive worlds that express the city environment as it exists but is little noticed. Livingston searches for the beautiful in the mundane, crafting pictorial representations of the authenticity of urban living. As artists have done throughout the ages, Livingston often reorders the components of a particular city scene. His keen artistic eye brings together buildings, streets and assorted structures from several locales, giving the final painting an optimally engaging composition.
To learn more about this inspiring artist and his work, visit his page on Arcadia Contemporary. If you are able to attend the 2014 L.A. Art Show, be sure to stop by Arcadia Contemporary’s booth to view his work in person. For more on Pastimes for a Lifetime’s Art Curriculum, and founder/instructor Linda Wehrli, visit the website or Facebook fan page.