I first became aware of the artist Tom Huston in the way back, when I rented an office space in the Park Building, Huston’s former studio. Before the walls were neutralized with off-white, the space was literally splashed with multi-colored bursts, like accidental abstract expressionist gestures. The previous tenant, I quickly realized, was a vibrant and sometimes fit-to-burst creative force, who I came to know and appreciate, and whose work was fueled by a certain wild passion — and activist compassion.
A compact but sturdy dose of those qualities, on canvases and in drawings and other artifacts, can be found in the current pop-up show of his work at Silo 188 Gallery (silo118.com, 118 Gray St.) called “Restivo.” Huston, who passed away in 2009 and left a sizable cache of artworks to be tended by his sister Charlene, dealt with matters cosmic (with the “Radii” series he described as “portable meditations”), futuristic and also innately, caringly earthly.
Before concern over climate change became as pressing an issue as it is today, Huston painted early cautionary tales in his Sea Level Rise series. An ambiguous cityscape, festooned with Japanese characters, is threatened by the rising sea, as is, in another canvas, Santa Barbara herself: only tops of palm trees and oil platforms survive as visible icons in paradise swept under.
Aside from the visual intrigue of his visions in this sampler of a Santa Barbara art scene original, Huston was a fever dreamer and a concerned planetary citizen, with his head in the stars, the dirt, and the impending water.
Fittingly, part of the exhibition’s proceeds will be donated to Heal the Ocean.