Dan Christensen (1942-2007) was a leading figure in the Color Field movement whose relentless experimentation with new tools and materials made him among the most ambitious abstract and gestural artists of his time.
In the late 1960s, Dan Christensen’s art was championed by important curators, critics, and art dealers, and important paintings were placed in major museum collections around the United States. However, it is only recently that his multifaceted oeuvre has received the widespread attention it has long deserved. The traveling retrospective, Dan Christensen: Forty Years of Painting, organized by the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art (Kansas City, Missouri) in 2009, helped make a convincing case for a heightened appreciation of Christensen’s work and his significant place in postwar abstraction. In a day when artists often held to a specific type of form, Christensen changed his approach and aesthetic often, at times in dramatic reversals and at other times in a return to and an expansion of earlier themes. His use of spray guns, window-washing squeegees, rakes, blasters, and house painting rollers were not the basis of his art but the vehicles that enabled him to strive for new ways of seeing. As noted in a review in Artforum of his Kemper show, the critic Peter Plagens observed that with his gutsy combination of elements, Christensen arrived “at some sort of visual poetry.”
Dan Christensen was born in Cozad, Nebraska in 1942. Seeing the work of Jackson Pollock on a trip to Denver when he was teenager motivated him to become an artist. He pursued this aim at the Kansas City Art Institute, Missouri, where he received his B.F.A. After moving to New York in 1964, he rose quickly to fame, as among a group of young artists who were reviving painting during a time that minimalism was prevalent. Christensen first gained renown for his spray loop paintings, in which he used the spray gun to create repeating calligraphic circles, producing shimmering allover surface effects. His work progressed in several directions, including his plaids, in which he used rollers and squeegees to “get more paint down on the canvas,” resulting in tighter compositions that at the same time had an improvisational quality as their compositions were determined in the artist’s “editing” phase. In another series, he used sticks and brush ends to cut into thick acrylic strata, abrading his surfaces to let colorful underlayers emerge. In the 1980s, he returned to the loop, using color sprays to create blurred circles and evanescent mandala-like lozenges.
Christensen conjoined his thematic issues in the mid-1990s, creating orbs of colors that seem to melt as well as move through fluorescent and celestial atmospheres, their shifting lines implying the Pythagorian harmony of the spheres as well as atomic energy and matter. Christensen was creating works of heightened brilliance and intensity when his career was abruptly ended by his early death in 2007.
Christensen received a National Endowment Grant in 1968 and a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1969. His paintings are held in over thirty museum collections, including the Albright-Knox Gallery, Buffalo, New York; the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Seattle Art Museum; the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; and many others. This summer, Gagosian Gallery in London will be including the 1968 masterpiece, “Pavo” in their exhibition entitled, “Srayed,” featuring works by Jules Olitski, David Smith, and Christopher Wool. Berry Campbell Gallery in Chelsea will open their fall 2015 season with a solo exhibition of Christensen’s work.
© Berry Campbell, 2015