In “Keeping Time,” a Bay Area Artist Illuminates the Mysteries of Women’s Inner Lives

Jun 3, 2016 12:30AM

From across the room, Linda Christensen’s latest paintings might remind you of Mary Cassatt’s. The scenes are populated by women and children, on a boat, at the beach, on a picnic, all rendered in romantic pastel hues.

Take a step closer, however, and you’ll see that although Christensen, like the great American artist before her, is a figurative painter, her work is far looser and more abstract than the refined, realistic images that made Cassatt famous in 1870s Paris.

For Christensen, figures and faces are blurred, indistinct; as the viewer, we get a sense of what’s going on, but we’re left to guess at the details. These inviting paintings are part of “Keeping Time,” the Bay Area artist’s new solo exhibition at Sue Greenwood Fine Art in Laguna Beach, California.

Unlike Cassatt, whose delicate drawing style was widely celebrated, Christensen works intuitively and often spontaneously, applying thick layers of paint with smooth brush strokes, scraping and slicing into her work with a palette knife. “While I am in the process of applying the paint, I have no destination,” the artist has said.

The effect is an aura of abstraction that makes Christensen’s works especially intriguing, particularly her depictions of private moments in public spaces. Take, for instance, the woman seated cross-legged on a beach blanket in Fundamental (2016), or the pair of women, one seated, the other standing, in Seacliff Figure (2014). These pensive subjects all stare out into the distance, seemingly lost in thought.

Though we can’t quite make out their expressions, we can deduce something from their postures, their body language, and in Christensen’s choice of colors. She mostly uses moody blues, greens, dark reds, and muddy browns—expressions of melancholy, nostalgia, or idleness—accented here and there by warm shots of color, as in Orange Towel and Beach Day (both 2015).

Ultimately, though these scenes may feel familiar, they are vaguely mysterious and inscrutable, like one’s inner life, even to herself.

“I like the challenge in my awareness of what isn’t happening,” the artist has said, “what isn’t being used, what isn’t being said and why.”

—Bridget Gleeson

Linda Christensen: Keeping Time” is on view at Sue Greenwood Fine Art, Laguna Beach, California, Apr. 20–May 31, 2016.

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