Dan Christensen

American, 1942
DAN CHRISTENSEN CAPTURED THE HARMONIOUS TURBULENCE OF THE 'UNIVERSE' IN HIS PAINTINGS

By L. Kent Wolgamott, Lincoln Journal Star, October 31, 2009

When Dan Christensen was attending Chadron State College in the late 1950s, art instructors there recognized the young painter's talent and encouraged him to attend the Kansas City Art Institute. Fifty years later, Christensen, who died in 2007 at age 64, is a highly regarded painter, likely the most noted, important Nebraska native artist of his era. "That's the way I'd see it," said Lincoln painter Keith Jacobshagen, who was at the Kansas City Art Institute with Christensen in the early 1960s. "Of that era, he was the only one to come out of the state that gained a national reputation."
Sheldon Museum of Art curator Sharon Kennedy concurs with Jacobshagen's assessment. "I can't think of anyone else," she said. "He was important because he stuck with painting at a time when painting was "dead" in so many eyes. He was innovative, a really dedicated painter."
Born in Cozad in 1942, Christensen moved frequently as a child. At 16, he left home to attend commercial art school in Denver, where he initially encountered live music that would influence his paintings. He also learned of Jack Kerouac and the Beats and, most importantly, saw his first Jackson Pollock painting. After graduating from high school in North Platte, Christensen went to Chadron for college, then transferred to the Kansas City Art Institute, where he graduated as class valedictorian in 1964.
"I had a pretty strong sense he was one of the talents," Jacobshagen said. "He had a real nice sense of skill and of touch. He was painting figuratively at that time. It wasn't until he moved to New York and was influenced by the city and the art world that he started doing abstraction." Christensen moved to New York in 1965, working as a carpenter, bartender, social worker and darkroom assistant while starting his painting career.
In 1967, making the move from figuration to abstraction, he began using spray guns to draw colorful stacks, loops and lines on his paintings, an original style that earned him instant notice and a solo exhibition at the Andre Emmerich Gallery, the first of dozens of such shows in his career. In 1969, he picked up a squeegee and created geometric "plaid" paintings, such as Lisa's Red, one of the prominent works featured in "Dan Christensen: Forty Years of Painting," an exhibition of more than 30 of his works from 1966 to 2006 on view at Sheldon Museum of Art through Jan. 31. By the 1970s and throughout the '80s, Christensen was an acclaimed painter, at least in New York. "He was highly regarded in New York, probably not so much out here," Jacobshagen said. "I don't know how many people even knew who he was out here in the '70s and '80s. Probably nobody." Now, as the exhibition indicates, Christensen is highly regarded everywhere. Artforum magazine listed the show as one of the top offerings at museums this summer, when it was at Kansas City's Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art. Christensen's paintings are widely held by museums and collectors. "He could have been better recognized earlier," Kennedy said. "Today I feel like he's gotten some credit for his perseverance."
Kennedy, who researched Christensen's early life and work for an essay in the exhibition catalog, said there is a direct connection between Christensen and Sheldon architect Philip Johnson. "Philip Johnson was one of the first people to give Christensen support," she said. "He bought paintings. He gave one to Sheldon and another piece was given to the Museum of Modern Art. They're both in the show." Long associated with color field painting, Christensen's lyrical abstraction is distinctly personal, an expression made through use of line and color.
Pressed about the meaning of his work, Christensen coined or borrowed the term "the harmonious turbulence of the universe," turning the saying into a mantra, according to Douglas Drake, a veteran Kansas City art dealer writing in the retrospective catalog. That "harmonious turbulence" came out of an improvisational, exploratory approach to the work.
"You have to surprise yourself," Christensen told Drake. "If the surprise holds up, maybe you've got something."
Submitted on 11/27/13 by Gerald Peters Gallery