From Nebraska to New York: Dan Christensen’s Life and Colorful Career

Jul 19, 2016 4:49PM

A small-town boy from Nebraska, the son of a farmer and a truck driver, might not seem like a likely candidate for becoming one of New York’s leading abstract painters in the 1960s. But that’s exactly who Dan Christensen (1942–2007) was, and who he became.

A fateful trip to Denver—specifically, his first encounter with the work of Jackson Pollock—changed the course of his life by inspiring a teenage Christensen to paint. After earning a BFA at the Kansas City Art Institute, he moved to New York to pursue a career as an artist.

What he found was a scene dominated by Minimalist painters. Christensen’s work stood out: In his early works, he rebelled against his own classical training by experimenting with technique and lyrical abstraction, using a spray paint gun to create the colorful ribbon-like shapes in his signature “spray loop” paintings.

In short order, Christensen’s work caught the attention of several curators and art dealers. Before the decade was up, he staged several solo shows in New York, including at Andre Emmerich Gallery, a key showcase for celebrated Color Field painters like Jules Olitski and Larry Poons. In the 1970s, he continued experimenting with color and technique, utilizing everything from paint rollers and squeegees to household brooms and masking tape.

His later works are saturated with swirls, squiggles, dripping lines and blurry shapes, some thickly applied or matte in finish, others delicate, practically shimmering. In the 1980s and ’90s, circles and orbs appear again and again, often adrift in celestial atmospheres, hinting at planets in orbit or blazing suns in the sky.

Christensen’s joyful oeuvre, much of which resides at Sponder Gallery / Baker Sponder Gallery, brims with innovative energy and exuberant spirit. That energy motivated him to paint right up until his death, at 64, in 2007.

“The movement in your pictures is you moving,” wrote his friend Billy Collins, the former U.S. Poet Laureate. To him, Christensen was “a wild laborer” who conjured “pastel spirals on cotton, / yellow coils on a field of mustard, optical targets, // planet blobs, tiny blue and pink afterthoughts, / and more than once, a color I had never seen.”

—Bridget Gleeson

See more artists from Sponder Gallery / Baker Sponder Gallery on Artsy.