John Gable uses the word, “joyful,” to describe his art career, which has taken him to Australia for the America’s Cup, to Pebble Beach for the Concours d’Elegance—a celebration of luxury historic automobiles—and into the home of President George W. Bush, to name just a few of Gable’s adventures. His expansive murals decorate the popular Clyde’s restaurants in Washington D.C. and Audi’s German headquarters; they are also part of the Titanic exhibit at the Smithsonian. Gable has 15 paintings installed at the storied Willard Hotel, including larger-than-life portraits of Mark Twain and Martin Luther King. “My philosophy is, ‘bring it on’ if it means travel and challenge.” Gable says. “My interest is not just in painting but in traveling and meeting people.”
Like his artist heroes Andrew Wyeth, Edward Hopper, and John Singer Sargent, Gable’s painting style is “traditional, tight, realism with an emphasis on light and atmosphere,” he says. “I’m not profound in terms of putting my politics out there for the world to see. I am very aware of what’s going on in the world—I just don’t like to express it in my art.” Trained in industrial and automotive design, he initially used his painting and illustrating skills at General Motors designing Pontiac Trans Ams and Firebirds, before moving to Maine and becoming a full-time artist in 1979. “I had the tools, so I wasn’t starting from scratch,” he says. “My reputation was made as a watercolor painter until I got a call from the architect at Clyde’s, asking, ‘Do you paint murals?’” The series, entitled The Age of Style, depicts classic cars and figures from the jazz era, and launched Gable’s career as a muralist.
While Gable still takes on mural commissions, he has recently given up a large space in downtown Bath—where he could paint oil-on-canvas murals up to 80 feet long—for his studio at home in Woolwich. “I have not used this studio for seven years because of all the murals and the commissions,” he says. “I would like to get back to doing some of the finest watercolors I can do.”
Whether he is doing commission work, or watercolor pieces that will hang at Portland Art Gallery, Gable focuses on technique. “Your ideas are extremely important, but you’ve got to know how to use the brush if you’re going to get to where you want,” he says. While some artists may hesitate to put figures in their paintings, he has no such concerns. “I’ve always painted for myself exactly what I wanted to paint in subject and style,” Gable says. “The act of painting is where my nirvana is, and luckily if I concentrate things turn out satisfactorily and are appreciated.” With a large body of his work in public view, it certainly seems to be.