Columbus artist readies series of retro scenes for Vanderelli Room exhibition

David Denniston's past and present meet in his latest series of oil paintings.

“Fact vs. Fiction” is a series of works completed during the past three years (and on exhibit in November at the Vanderelli Room). The figurative works fuse the vibe of the artist's 1970s childhood with his current-day reality in Franklinton. Both past and present include elements of fact and fiction, per the exhibition title.

The past is the suburban Detroit neighborhood in which Denniston grew up. Here, his fact is that the settings are real spaces in Franklinton: outdoor scenes, real props, a bedroom in Denniston's girlfriend's house. The fiction is that Denniston doesn't intend Franklinton as a stand-in for his childhood home, but merely as a canvas of sorts on which to set broad scenes of growing up in the '70s.

“I set up a lot of these, especially the ones that are these memories, almost like these little stages, so I'm doing a little storytelling, if you will. I guess you would say it has a retro vibe to it, using things from bunk beds to a Schwinn bicycle. Or I use different scenarios, like sneaking out of the house, or playing with a Ouija board. Then there's the boys' room, with a KISS poster and the little black and white TV. It's more a '70s tonality, just hanging out with friends, with really nothing to do except hang out and play records,” Dennison said.

The present is not only the necessary use of current-day spaces but also a “cast” of six real people, including two of the artist's own children, in the scenes. As with the scenes, the figures in Denniston's paintings are not literal depictions either of the models or of specific people from Denniston's childhood. They are the kid who reads fiction novels, the girl who gets into trouble, or the cool kid with long hair who smoked, Denniston said.

“There's a little bit of borrowing. I started with personality traits of the actual people and then thought about things like, ‘That reminds me of my older cousin.' But that's about as much back story as there is,” Denniston said. “It's a fictional melancholy, memories from my childhood.”

Even the techniques Denniston employed combine fact and fiction.

“There's some realism in there, but not too tight. I want people to still see brushstrokes … a little impressionistic,” he said.