Minus story

When it comes to color, painter says less is more


Thad Allender/Journal-World Photo

Lawrence artist Del Christensen sits next to his most recent painting in his home studio on Tuesday. Christensen's work will be on view Wednesday through Aug. 27 at the Lawrence Arts Center.

Color wields power.

Everyone remembers that Dorothy's slippers glistened ruby red in "The Wizard of Oz."

But while assigning the magical shoes a hue makes them more memorable, perhaps it steals something from viewers.

"I've always felt that black-and-white films are often more powerful because there's more space for the viewer to create, to interact, to fill in -- to add color, in a sense," Lawrence artist Del Christensen says. "Painting in black and white, for me, is like that."

Christensen's dichromatic world, rendered in black and white enamels on canvas, will be on view through Aug. 27 at the Ann Evans Gallery in the Lawrence Arts Center.

In the paintings, waterfalls cascade from hidden sources in dark mountains. A pearly moon runs through its phases in an open sky.

Lest Christensen's color scheme be misconstrued as simple, consider this: "There are a lot of colors of black and a lot of colors of white," he says.

He uses creamy whites over more pure whites and a range of blacks that reflect light at varying levels. The ultra-mattes absorb light and read very dark. Satins and high glosses move forward on the canvas, becoming more lively.

The works are inspired, in part, by the places Christensen has lived. Born in western Kansas, he grew up on a farm in Phillips County near the Kansas-Nebraska border, soaking up big skies and dramatic weather.

"I did spend a lot of time when I was young out walking at night with just that blaze of stars, in part because there's nothing to do on the farm that's interesting unless you are really into farming," he recalls.

  • Ongoing until Friday 08.27Daily :: Del Christensen Paintings
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Art as conversation

Later Christensen lived in California and Montana, where the mountains and their cataracts became part of his visual vocabulary. He says he became fascinated with the liquid aspect of paint and how it plays out in creating images of waterfalls.

Christensen's paintings start as raw ideas in his sketchbook. He then tends to rough out images in charcoal and marker, sometimes adding oil washes and then finishing with alkyd enamels and a bit of spray paint. Most of the works are 5 to 6 feet in their largest dimension, and they never end up quite the way Christensen conceives them.

"I think always one goes into it with a certain intent or idea or form in mind, but then other things happen," he says. "Sometimes I'll have an image almost done, and then I'll just fling the paint at it and let something happen.

"I've always considered doing art a conversation, as in I do something and it does something, the psyche presents something or chance or accident presents something. And then I respond to that."

Rick Mitchell, gallery director at the arts center, says of Christensen's paintings: "They are inspired by landscapes and imaginary landscapes but dwell on the edge of abstraction in that 'place' the eye loves -- fields of high-contrast dream imagery with surfaces rich in texture."

Christensen concedes that aspects of some of his works verge on pure form, paint and light.

"But I think there's something I like about having an image that allows people an entry into a painting," he says.

Energy and stillness

Christensen only recently returned to painting. After spending four years in the U.S. Navy traveling the Mediterranean as a photographer, he went to art school, where he made earth- and land-based conceptual pieces that he documented photographically; sculpture that explored landforms, watercourse paths and erosion; and gallery installations on the same themes.

Since then he's lived in and worked in places like Berkeley, Calif.; Bozeman, Mont.; Madison, Wis.; and Roswell, N.M. During a decade-long break from art that ended about 2 1/2 years ago, Christensen remodeled homes and built hot rods. He recently moved from Lecompton to Lawrence, where he has created a cozy studio in a light-filled, second-floor room.

It's there, with paintbrush in hand, that he freezes moments and places on canvas, always seeking a harmonious blend of black and white.

"I like the search for a balance between energy and stillness," he says. "I suppose, in a sense, that's why I'm painting rather than making a film or something, because it's working with an energetic moment, but it's holding that moment in a still place.

"Hopefully that's communicated to somebody that's looking at it."

  • Downtown Gallery Walk Friday, 7.23Brochures with maps and exhibition details are available at participating venues.
  • ad astra galleriaExhibit: "E Pluribus Unum," sculptures and paintings by Dragon's Haven Artworks artists Jay Alexander, Ingrid Alexander and Maggie Jones.
  • Back to the Garden, 619 N. Second St., 749-3109.Exhibit: Work by metalsmith and designer Kevin Shartz.
  • Bob Brown Co./Art Zone, 727 Mass., 766-4222.Exhibit: "New Beginnings," by fused glass artist Tana Cimino.
  • Diane's Artisan GalleryExhibit: Fused or kiln-formed glass by Martin Kremer, Kremer Glass Studio, Pound Ridge, N.Y.; and wheel-thrown pottery by Laura Ross, studio potter, Prospect, Ky.
  • FieldsExhibit: A decade of silkscreen prints by Ken Grizzell.
  • Lawrence Arts CenterExhibit: Del Christensen Paintings and "We're All Made Here: Paintings and Doll Sculpture" by Margaret Meyer Schultz.
  • Lawrence Public LibraryExhibit: Lawrence Art Guild All Members' Show.
  • Olive GalleryExhibit: "Don't Bug Me," paintings by Gene Marsh.
  • Phoenix GalleryExhibit: Handblown glass by Brice Turnbill, sterling silver jewelry by Margaret Solis.
  • The Red Dresser
  • Signs of Life GalleryExhibit: Etchings by Minnesota artist Joan Bohlig.
  • Silver Works and MoreExhibit: Ceramics by Xiaosheng Bi and Bernadette Curran, and jewelry by Jim Connelly and Lynne Intrachat.
  • Southwest and More, 727 Mass., 843-0141.Exhibit: Recent ceramic sculpture by Barry Coffin.


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