Metaphysical Realism Painter

Gabe Wells

Art validates us. It creates identity and fosters a sense of belonging through emotional vulnerability, luring out something more mystical than our daily routines. The shared creative journey is like hug from the universe saying you are not alone.

Growing up, I was constantly on the move. Making friends became a challenge as I hopped from one rural town to another year after year. Loneliness was my constant companion, but it also became the catalyst for my deep love affair with art. I found solace in all things illustrated, whether it was a cereal box, a cartoon, comic strip, comic book, book cover, album cover, or anything brought to life by an artist. The shapes, lines, colors, and the raw expressions of emotion captured my heart. Drawing became an oasis of escapism where I could safely explore my ideas. I realized that with pencil and paper, I could express all of my previously ignored emotions. Yes, people still saw me as an awkward and weird kid but I kept drawing and I was really good at it.

Born into a struggling family in Florida, my parents were living on unpredictable flows of gambling profits from racing horses, held together by part-time jobs that my diligent mother took on at night to support us. My father battled untreated bipolar disorder, making it difficult for him to hold down a job for long. We often struggled to make ends meet.

As if this backdrop of challenges wasn't enough, I grappled with undiagnosed ADHD and carried the weight of childhood trauma. Self-destructive behaviors became my coping mechanism. I would erupt in anger at the slightest provocation, engage in schoolyard fights, and watch my grades plummet. Amidst this turmoil, my passion for art deepened—it became the other end of a seesaw.

At fifteen, we moved to Ocala, Florida, where I made a few close friends and continued to draw. I even won some local art prizes for high school competitions.

Around the age of 18, I crossed paths with my lifelong friend, John Fort, in our high school art class. He was a surrealist-style painter who introduced me to Salvador Dali. He showed me how to paint without fear—to pour my inner world onto a canvas. I fell in love with oil painting.

John and I hustled our unconventional paintings to coffee shops, hair salons, restaurants, bars, nightclubs, and small galleries across central Florida. We made enough sales to keep our creative spirits alive. But when John pursued an art education, my journey took yet another turn.

At 23, a life-altering acid trip shook me to the core, prompting me to leave Florida and seek a new beginning in my aunt and uncle's home in New Hampshire. However, the broken parts of me missed the entertaining free living of my old Florida lifestyle, and I returned with about $200 to my name, sleeping on a friend's couch for months while enjoying the entire experience.

Within a week of moving back to Ocala Florida, a suggestion from a friend led me to a tattoo shop where the owners and artists liked my paintings enough to purchase three of them. They offered me a studio space at the back of their shop, and one of them even volunteered to apprentice me as a tattoo artist, which I eagerly accepted. Things didn't quite work out as expected, and my self-destructive side brought about situations that led to them eventually asking me to leave. That hurt, but I learned some lessons, and I just kept painting.

For most of my 20s, I kept working as a transient waiter while I continued painting. People would buy my art or occasionally commission pieces from me. I gifted some, and a couple were stolen out of clubs and bars. But it was enough to keep me motivated and my studio clear of old unsold artwork.

At twenty-eight, I received a call from one of my close childhood friends who had always supported my pursuit of painting. He was moving from Miami to New York and asked if I wanted to join him. I said yes and sold all my stuff, including my car and my paintings. My girlfriend and I moved to Williamsburg, Brooklyn. I was only familiar with great art through seeing them as small images in books and magazines, but my experience in NYC changed how I thought about art. I was surrounded by creative energy that swept me away. I dedicated a lot of time to visiting galleries and museums, fascinated with the talent these painters wielded on their canvas. I found myself transported to the artist's process of brushstrokes and layering. Like a musician learning to play a song by ear, I learned so much from all of those great paintings. New York changed my artistic path and showed me the type of artist I wanted to become. After only about a year and a half, I moved back to Jacksonville, Florida, against my friend's advice, urging me to stay in New York and continue to pursue my passion.

This move kind of broke me because I sunk into an ego-death type of depression for the first time in my adult life. I didn't seek help, and those three years were like a foggy dream to me. During this period, I painted sparingly, showed artwork around Jacksonville, and placed second at a Food gallery's juried show. I also earned my graphic design degree.

I moved to Denver in 2011 and was attracted by the art scene and low cost of living (at the time). Four months after the move, my son was born. I embraced the responsibilities of parenthood, but I also put my art on hold for nearly three years. The emptiness without painting was overwhelming, but these years were crucial for fostering a strong bond with my son while his mother pursued a nursing degree.

To fill the creative void, I launched a podcast, "The Saturated Life," in 2013. I hosted conversations with 16 professional artists around the United States. The podcasts were unstructured and raw, which led to intriguing, vulnerable stories and metaphysical topics that renewed a sense of creative inspiration in me. After 16 episodes, I shifted my focus back to creating art.

After becoming a single parent in 2016, I was able to fully rediscover myself as an artist; in between time with my four-year-old son and my new day job, I painted. But after all of that time away from painting, my artistic skills were lousy. I decided to relearn how to draw and paint through online courses and books. This turned out to be a positive experience for the outcome of my new paintings.

I've participated in numerous group art shows in galleries and businesses across Denver, completed commissions for individual collectors and businesses, and ventured into mural painting. My first mural was in 2017, commissioned by a small business in Denver's RINO Art District. I subsequently adorned businesses and private residences with my murals in Denver and its surrounding towns.

During the second half of our nation's COVID experience in 2020, I experienced another debilitating period of depression lasting around six months. I finally started seeing a Therapist, and I am thankful that I did.

Art has always been my oasis; a beautiful place of self-discovery. But at this point in my life, I started believing that money validated me as an artist, even if the work was primarily the client's idea. However, I later realized that I only love art when I get to do the artwork that inspires me. So, I started turning down commission requests to explore my own creative ideas. This led me to an entrancing new medium: sculpting with various clays. My first sculpture, "Free Your Mind," became an expression of my struggles with mental health during COVID-19 and, if I'm honest, throughout my life.

One of my paintings from this period, "Luminous," was selected as one of the fifty finalists in the 2022 Beautiful Bizarre traditional art contest, validating my renewed creative path of self-discovery.

I've been delving into metaphysical themes of vulnerability, identity, belonging, and emotional connections. Imaginative realism art is my passion. The style allows an artist to journey into introspective states of self-discovery. This cathartic art process holds the power to heal, inspire, others by uniting us through our inner selves. As an introvert, art has been my bridge to the outside world. Without it, I would feel lost in a world that often defies understanding.

Thank you for being part of my journey. I hope you, too, are following your inner light.

Artist Statement

About Me: An Artist's Journey

Occasional mural Painter