Yesteryear’s amusement parks

October 15, 2001 § Leave a comment

Yellow Cristal | Francis Livingston

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 roof tops, 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. 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.

Living in Sun Valley, Idaho, Livingston travels to large cities to seek out architectural subject matter. Cities are filled with exotically shaped ’30s and ’40s theaters with lavish patterns. New York City provides a rich palette of diverse designs. Tenements, brownstones, Greek and Victorian Revivals and Art Deco facades of brick, ornamental marble and cement — once elegant buildings that have lost their luster become enlivened in Livingston’s work.

In Coney Island and Santa Cruz — known for their turn-of-the-20th century amusement parks, beaches and playground decor, Livingston has found a wealth of subject matter. As many of these amusement park structures no longer exist, he documents the exhilarating feeling of being confronted by the enormity and grandeur of a majestic roller coaster, with bright yellow cars on red tracks rushing downward at high sped. Or, he portrays gargantuan Ferris wheels surrounded by brightly colored, circus-like tents with a carnival atmosphere.

In this varied collection of urban reality, Livingston brings to life a range of architectural structures — from dark-toned, somber brown buildings with vertical and horizontal alignment, antiquated signage and ornate embellishments to playful, upbeat forms of circular gyrating mechanization. Add to this the artist’s love of nostalgia and mood and what emerges are paintings that exude a uniquely spirited ambiance. Livingston captures the pulse of cities and transports the viewer back in time to countless places, many of which still exist in the 21st century.

— ROBERTA CARASSO

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