Sink Into This L.A. Artist’s Dreamy, Otherworldly Paintings


man in paint splatted clothing and glasses holding cat while leaning against a paint covered wall near a low workbench

Artist Wendell Gladstone leans against a wall of his Silver Lake studio with his cat, Umi.

As a child, Wendell Gladstone adored stories about fantastical realms. Fast-forward to today and world-building is still a concept he embraces. “It’s license to create a space where anything can happen,” says the artist, whose richly detailed figurative paintings offer portals to scenes governed by the surreal logic of dreams.

Set in a liminal place between the natural and supernatural, Gladstone’s works are populated by figures who appear more humanoid than human. “I like to straddle between something very stylized—faces that appear to be carved from wood or plastic, with otherworldly eyes—and an expression of soul, emotion and human connection,” says Gladstone. In this uncanny dimension, window panes with pliable mullions might be penetrated by hands; and in his latest beach-themed series, faces arise from the sand while birds, crabs and other creatures appear as if they’re made out of semitransparent stained glass. Gladstone’s sun-washed color palette also helps to amplify his subjects. “It’s very bright, kind of acidic and artificial in a way that evokes an alien world,” he says.

surrealistic beach scene paintings hung behind a table holding dozens of bottles of acrylic paint

The two pieces shown here, "A Face Drawn in the Sand at the Edge of the Sea" and "Whispers to You" (from left) are part of an April exhibition at London’s Public Gallery.

Wendell Gladstone painting on canvas

Within his Silver Lake studio, Gladstone works on a piece titled Then, Now, Warmth Hereafter, from a beach-themed series.

artist sketchpad with in process sketches

His pieces begin as sketches, and are then rendered in acidic-colored acrylics paired with an impasto technique that allows for etched detailing.

gridded paper with paint blobs labeled with color names hanging on a white wall

The artist is known for his sun-washed color palette. “It’s very bright, kind of acidic and artificial,” he says.

painting of human-like figures laying on a sandy beach

The title of the painting shown here, “A Face Drawn in the Sand at the Edge of the Sea,” nods to philosopher Michel Foucault.

The artist likens his process to a kind of divination: Ideas come to him from books, television, browsing the web or just out of the ether. He jots them into notebooks and turns them into sketches. “When the images start to talk to one another, I take photos and play with them in Photoshop until a composition emerges, and then I begin to paint,” shares Gladstone, who often employs an impasto technique to lay down a thick coat of white paint with a palette knife. He then applies a layer of acrylic color to create a bas-relief effect that he can etch into to render tactile details, such as fabric or the pattern on a palm tree’s trunk.

“Spooky Action,” his latest solo show at Shulamit Nazarian Gallery in Los Angeles, took its title from Albert Einstein’s famous quip about the connectivity between distant entities. Gladstone’s April exhibition at London’s Public Gallery, “A Face Drawn in the Sand at the Edge of the Sea,” nods to another famous figure: philosopher Michel Foucault.

Whatever references infuse his works, Gladstone’s art invites speculation. “I set up the stage, but I don’t want to put the period at the end of the sentence,” he muses. “I want you to come in and make your own projections. And then, we have a real dialogue.”