Meadow Vista painter is on the right track

Gary Symington's art focuses on trains
By: Cheri March
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On a recent business trip to Colorado, Gary Symington made an unscheduled stop. Like most of the Meadow Vista artist’s travel destinations, Golden, Colo. conveniently happened to have a railroad museum. “I took my camera in there and went nuts like a kid in a candy store,” Symington laughed. After taking a hiatus from painting to raise his family and focus on his day job as art director for a company that manufactures audio file cables, the award-winning illustrator is back on track — this time inspired by a passion for trains. Symington isn’t your typical railroad buff. Sure, he can tell you the difference between a cog train and a cab forward, but it’s the aesthetics as much as the history that he finds appealing. “When you see an old engine that’s got all this mechanical complexity and all kinds of discolored pitted metal — lots of texture and discoloration from the high heat — I think that’s interesting,” he said. His fascination is apparent in the rusty detail and surprising angles of oil paintings like “Oiling the 28,” his close-up of the famous engine used in the third Back to the Future film, and “Cab Forward,” a rendering of the last cab forward locomotive, a train uniquely designed for the long snow tunnels of the Sierras. Symington draws inspiration from train-focused travels, like a stay with his family at a Caboose Motel in Dunsmuir, Calif. and a ride up Mt. Washington in New Hampshire on a cog railway, but also from his imagination — like when he re-envisioned an abandoned old engine he noticed in a field as a shiny locomotive in a dreamy snow-covered rail yard. When train paintings began to clutter his home studio this summer, he joined the Secret City Gallery and last month’s Railroad Days art show in Colfax. “I viewed his work online and immediately called him to be a part of the show,” said Maureen Cekic, owner of Secret City Gallery. “There is a realism about his work. He adds a great deal of detail to bring out the mechanics and workings of the trains and their surroundings.” It’s a fresh change from the commercial freelance work Symington performed after graduating with a B.A. in painting from Syracuse University. “I painted landscapes for a long time — your typical pretty birch trees,” Symington said. But his early love for impressionism is still apparent, sometimes as a soft background, other times with a more industrial flavor as seen in the painting that earned him Best in Show in Placer Arts’ 2008 art competition — the first juried show he’d entered in a decade. Ironically, the winning entry wasn’t of a train, but the metal rooftops of Lincoln’s Gladding McBean clay factory. It’s Symington’s railroad art, however, that will be featured in the Pioneer Arts Northern Mine Juried Exhibition on Saturday and available for public viewing Nov. 4-29 at the Center for the Arts in Grass Valley. “He really enjoys intertwining the history of trains and the need to paint as an artist,” Cekic said. “He does an amazing job combining the two and creates such beautifully unique work.” Gary Symington’s work can be viewed and purchased online at, or