The abstract paintings of Francis Livingston
Atypical Navajo weaving designs are the muse for painter Francis Livingston’s abstract work
Most collectors of Navajo textiles can readily identify a Navajo rug pattern; one with classic hooks and intricate design elements. But as with any artists, not all early Navajo weavers stuck to the script. There is a small subset of textiles that are unique, because of their non-Navajo appearance.
These atypical weavings are now becoming some of the more sought after textiles. Pattern and Abstraction, a show running July 13th through August 8th at Medicine Man Gallery, explores these unusual blankets and rugs juxtaposed with abstract paintings by Francis Livingston.
The bold geometric shapes and color play of the weavings complement the thick colorful paintings of Livingston. Not only did Francis Livingston use the imagery of the weavings as a muse, but in some cases he actually incorporated small fragments of vintage Navajo textiles.
These fragments, which were going to be tossed, got new life in the form of abstract canvases. Francis Livingston sat down with me and discussed a side of him that many of his collectors may not know, his abstract paintings.
Mark Sublette (MS) What drew you into doing abstract paintings?
Francis Livingston (FL) I’ve always been influenced by abstract space, I see all paintings even drawings as abstract space. From the time I started painting, I saw shapes, both positive and negative in terms of space. Trees, leaves, my entire environment; this is not a conscious effort it’s just the way I view the world.
MS Who are some of the contemporary painters that you admire?
FL Definitely Richard Diebenkorn, Franz Kline, and Robert Motherwell, basically the abstract expressionists.
MS Do your abstract paintings take less or more time to complete, compared to your better-known western paintings?
FL They take probably on average the same amount of time, but a different kind of time. My western artwork is dealing more with subject matter, so it’s split between design and the subject matter. While my abstract artwork is really about shape immersion and the color aspect. Time is spent contemplating and looking at the canvas. The painting time may be fast, but viewing and contemplating require much more. The abstractions may have more of an emotional component.
MS Incorporating old Navajo textile remnants into your paintings was a unique idea. Can you tell me a little about the process?
FL The remnants have added another challenge, because there is a three dimensional component that I have to make part of the painting. That’s why the remnants are covered up, then I may sand down to the weaving to expose the textile fragment. It took a lot of time to decide initially how to use them. Currently, I am using them linearly by unraveling the fragments, to the individual yarn fibers, here is where Diebenkorn’s influence comes into my thought process.
MS You studied the Navajo weavings in the show to help guide you in making your abstract paintings, how so?
FL All kinds of things influenced me with regards to Navajo weavings, but their shape and pattern would be very important. The patterns are very subtle in my paintings and the color combinations make them work. How can I top what the weavers have already done. They have such great harmony. That’s what I’m trying to achieve, from corner to corner in my work, a harmony.
MS What characteristics of your modern paintings are incorporated into your western paintings?
FL The abstract positive negative spaces. More and more, I use a flat shape with rendered shapes. A figure that has a wrap or blanket on that may be seen as flat, while the head, face more rendered. A combination of graphic and realism is what I’m hoping to achieve.
Pattern and Abstraction runs July 13th through August 8th at Medicine Man Gallery, 602A Canyon Road in Santa Fe.