Selective Focus: Naomi Christenson

Naomi Christenson has been featured here before as a dancer, this week we get to see her work as a painter. A self-described “detail junkie” she gets inspiration from unusual places, including fungus and lichen. Her paintings are filled with immaculate detail and vibrant colors, abstraction and pattern.

NC: I primarily work in acrylic paint, though I’ve also worked with oil and gouache for some projects. When I started painting, it was in a classroom and we worked primarily on still lives. The instructor set up a backdrop with a diverse collection of objects in the foreground and we painted it. In that setting, I found myself most drawn to the complex objects with lots of detail. An old gumball machine with its glassy top, red metal body and shiny silver flourishes springs to mind as one of my favorite objects to paint. Beyond classes, the more I painted the more my style came into view. For example, I found myself happiest with paintings that not only had a lot of detail but also a lot of color. Years later I discovered my love of natural patterns and the mix within my work became more interesting.

Lily Pads – 2016
Acrylic on canvas, 60” x 48”
Created for an exhibition at the Duluth Art Institute in 2016 that celebrated natural pattern, this large painting holds an incredible amount of detail. I was fascinated by the way a pattern can be created by plants through by their reproduction. The leaves are repeated with slight variations throughout this rain barrel and they create such a beautiful composition naturally. And among the leaves were also the patterns of water droplets. I ate up every last detail while I worked on it.

At this point in my career, I’d call my work the colorful explorations of natural pattern by a complete detail junkie.

Lace Blooming – 2018
Acrylic on canvas, 20” x 20”
Fungus is a subject that has always caught my eye. All of the detail in the various ways that it can grow is alluring and painting it has been very rewarding. The scrolling patterns within each “lobe” of this fungus reminds me of lace designs, hence the name. Available at Lizzards Gallery in Duluth.

I began painting roughly 17 years ago, but I was drawing long before that. Drawing was such a good forerunner to painting for me, especially since detail and realism are important elements of my pieces.

Colony of Light – 2018
Acrylic on canvas, 8” x 8”
Painting “Colony of Light” was pivotal for me. Previously, I was so intensely focused on the pattern that I didn’t pay as much attention to the dimensions of space within the composition. In this piece, I painted pattern of lichen, but I also allowed for the pattern of light behind the lichen to have a voice. The result is a painting that is more dimensional and spatial in nature. Available at Lizzards Gallery in Duluth.

Being a detail junkie comes with the excitement and burden of handling lots of details. There are no “fast” paintings, so time is definitely a challenge there. I think battling perfectionism is another challenge, but it’s important to not let perfectionism win. Then you just stop making art. The rewards are worth it though. I didn’t decide to love detail, but I do love it so much. When I’m able to produce the thing I love, that my brain is super excited about, it’s just so fun! I sometimes describe it as lots of happy bells ringing in my head when I complete a piece, it’s exciting!

I have paintings in several galleries in Minnesota:
Lizzards Art Gallery & Framing, Duluth
Lakeside Gallery, Duluth
Gallery 360, Minneapolis
Night Art Gallery, Lindstrom

Links to work online:
Night Art Gallery

Isadora Emerges – 2018
Acrylic on canvas, 14” x 34”
The patterns of the suckers, the speckling on the skin and even the tentacle shapes repeated radially on the octopus makes it a fascinating subject for me. Added to that is the beautiful and hypnotic way they move. This piece is a dramatic solo from a fantastic performer bejeweled with patterns. Available at Night Art Gallery in Lindstrom.

I have a couple shows coming up in 2019 for which I am creating new work. Both shows will feature new paintings of fungus and lichen.

Red Mug Coffee, Superior
Opening reception: March 7, 2019, 5:00-7:00 pm

Gallery 360, Minneapolis
Opening reception: May 18, 2019

Flamenco Fins – 2018
Acrylic on canvas, 10” x 30”
This piece is the first in a series I’m calling “Underwater Dances” that takes some of the spatial lessons I learned from “Colony of Light” and fuses them with my choreographic style. I composed this piece using several different photos of fish and fins (and all the patterns inherit in them) and played with pushing and pulling the focus to create a spatial composition. Available at Night Art Gallery in Lindstrom.

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