Spanierman Modern is pleased to announce the opening on March 6, 2014 of Dan Christensen: Sprays and Stains, an exhibition consisting of the innovative abstract paintings Christensen created from the late 1960s until his death in 2007 that are characterized by their vibrant and unique optical effects. In the late 1960s, at a time when other artists focused on conceptual issues or returned to representation, Christensen received national recognition for extending modernist inquiries into the nature of painting. In the decades that followed, he ceaselessly took chances and risks, pushing the limits of painting into new terrain. Never restricting himself to a particular idiom, he drew from both the gestural methods of Abstract Expressionism and the lucidity and lyricism of Color Field painting, while developing distinctive and unusual surfaces through his exploration of new mediums.
One of the first artists to use the spray gun, Chiristensen initially employed this means to produce stacked “spray loop” paintings that follow a Minimalist modular format, as in Times Square (1967) and Bosco (1968). About the same time, he loosened control in works such as Chevade (1968) and O (1968), achieving a calligraphic fluency in which each quality of the moving and intersecting lines holds our interest across large canvas surfaces. In the 1970s, Christensen’s art expanded in several directions. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, he also began to experiment with paint staining. Stapling an unstretched canvas to a carpeted floor, he rolled his paint to create an overall ground, sometimes layering colors on top of each other to produce a desired hue. Then using a stick, brush, or turkey baster, he created “drawings” or frameworks around which he allowed the paint to flow further. With their varied dynamics of shape and tone, these works evoke a range of organic, musical, and landscape allusions while remaining within the bounds of a pure modernist endeavor. The critic and poet John Ashbery described the color in them as smoldering and sensuous, observing that they force the eye to “recognize distinctions among areas of color, which at first have strong family resemblances and only somewhat later turn out to be mavericks that could just as easily be at odds with each other.”
Christensen returned to the spray gun at intervals during the rest of his career, using it with confident fluidity and inventiveness. He wound the color with breathtaking speed to produce mesmerizing mandalas in works such as Dolan (1988) and Camillo (1989), while in paintings such as Swing Street (2001), he combined spray and stain to produce more jazzy, fantasy-laden images. Greneda (2005), Night Garden II (2005), created by Christensen in his last years, break again into new territory, their dazzling color and light making them alive with electrical charge.
In an article of 2009 in Linea, Ronnie Landfield stated that “Christensen’s foremost achievement as an artist was his ability to create consistently meaningful and high quality art while continually evolving.” Christensen’s Sprays and Stains exemplify this trajectory, revealing his perpetual enthusiasm for new vocabulary, his mastery of challenging methods, and his willingness to shift gears, resulting in a body of work that is at once multi-dimensional and unified in its diverse range of inquiries.
Born in Cozad, Nebraska, in 1942, the son of a farmer and truck driver, Christensen chose to become an artist when, as a teenager, he saw the work of Jackson Pollock on a trip to Denver. After receiving his B.F.A. from the Kansas City Art Institute, Missouri, in 1964, he moved to New York City, where he became part of a dynamic period of exchange and experimentation in the art world. Within two years, he rose to fame, as part of a group of young artists who revived painting after a period in which minimalism prevailed. He maintained his dedication to new ways of expanding his artistic expression throughout a career, that was sadly cut short when he was 65 years old. Christensen received a National Endowment Grant in 1968 and a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1969. His work has recently received critical and public attention in an exhibition organized in 2009 by the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City, Missouri, held at the Kemper and at the Sheldon Museum of Art, University of Nebraska, Lincoln (2009-10).
Christensen’s paintings are in numerous public collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco; the Seattle Art Museum, and many others.