ATMOSPHERICS: Color is the Message
May 15 - June 21, 2015 created during an era in which some critics said painting was exhausted and others claimed it was dead. Certainly Christensen heard this but, as an artist of independent spirit—and happily for art history—he was undaunted in his iconoclastic allegiance to the potential of painting. Despite the proliferation of alternative art forms around him, Christensen delighted in pioneering new uses of pure color and odd tools to energize the power of abstract painting in the pursuit of Modernism’s continuing ideal to produce the genuinely new. Christensen’s spirited use of spray guns to create paintings like “Untitled (1968)” with woozy atmospheres of freely merging hue and wildly dancing threads of color, coincided with the new social impetus in the ’60s toward individual and group liberations of all sorts. This new aura characteristic of the times seems channeled by Christensen into his paintings with big muscular gestures unabashedly sprayed, the kind of colorful loops seen reprised in “Dolan” (1988), as well as the more ethereal squiggles floating freely on misty backgrounds as in “Untitled” (1968). With this exuberant bravura Christensen blithely forged new aesthetic ground and in the process produced painted analogs to the psychedelic rock, rhythm and blues, dreamy poetry, free love and strenuous activism of those high times. In his work, Christensen took joy in expressing what he called the “harmonious turbulence of the universe.”
Both brilliance and liveliness are labels befitting the work of Christensen, work that ranges over a career spanning more than 40 years and extending across a prodigious breadth of styles and periods. As a master of vivacious color, riveting composition, adventuresome techniques and the physicality of paint, Christensen used extraordinary combinations of these elements to code into his work imprints of inner enthusiasms, curiosities and joys. These brought remarkable energy to work recognized today as some of the finest “new direction” abstract painting of the post-Abstract Expression period. A new exhibition at LewAllen Galleries consists of more than 20 major paintings—many classics in the history of American Abstraction and of museum caliber—from Christensen’s celebrated “spray” and “plaid” series. They vividly illustrate Christensen’s extraordinary capacity to coalesce onto canvas layers of paint, arrays of color, wellplaced line, and exciting juxtapositions of shapes in order to effect nearly alchemical transfigurations from the artist’s imagination and emotions into physical works as immediate and sensate for the viewer as they were for him. Much of Christensen’s best work, including several examples in this show, was produced in the 1960s (the “early spray” paintings, revisited again in the ’80s with work such as “Dolan”) and the 1970s (the “plaid” paintings ), both
Untitled #69, 1971, enamel & acrylic on canvas, 75” x 88”
Published on May 9, 2015
With work in virtually every leading American museum and innumerable important private collections, Dan Christensen (1942-2007) is widely re...