Passing view CoverArtist: Francene Christianson captures moments in time
by Norma Smith Olson
Mrs. Cueto recognized that her fourth-grade student, Francene, had a talent for drawing and suggested she pursue painting. So she did. With her friend, April, she took after-school art classes with Mrs. Cueto. "I think that in part, because of that experience, April and I are both working artists today," said June cover artist Francene Christianson.
Christianson grew up in California and has spent a lifetime studying the craft of painting. As a student at Califormia State Long Beach she planned to become an illustrator, but found herself desiring a "community" rather than "solitary" art experience. "I realized that I didn't want to be in the studio by myself, so I switched to advertising and graphic design," Christianson said. She worked in that industry for 15 years, first in Los Angeles and then in New York City.
As an art director, paired with a writer, Christianson learned how to get at the heart of what she wanted to communicate. She learned to be concise and to come up with a concept that would speak to the client.
Fast forward to today
Christianson has lived in Minnesota for the past 10 years. The rendering techniques and design skills she learned early in her art career are serving her quite nicely. Today, she works primarily in oils, painting landscapes (both of her native California and her adopted Minnesota), portraits and still life.
"I'm a realist, but I try to be mysterious in my storytelling, giving just enough information to let the viewer use their imagination a bit."
A few years ago, a new series of paintings-family portraits-developed when Christianson inherited a group of slides from family gatherings and trips. There was one particular slide that captured her attention. "It was shot by my uncle, taken of the back of our station wagon." Christianson was 7 years old at the time, on a road trip to Yosemite with her extended family. That's her in the stylish glasses and red shoes, next to her cousin, Susan. Her parents are in the front seat.
"When I saw this slide, I loved the way it captured the moment, the way the figures worked together and the composition, and I knew I had to paint it," Christianson said.
She painted it for herself, a departure from the landscapes she had been working on. When she started showing her road-trip painting-it was in the State Fair Fine Arts exhibit in 2008-she was surprised how people connected with it.
"It was like it was bigger than my little family," Christianson said. "[The painting] opened a window into a time that a lot of us remember and [makes one] feel good. Were things easier then? Less ambiguous? Was there a sense of optimism, a feeling that the sky's the limit? This was the early '60s, there was less regimentation. Look, there weren't even any seatbelts!"
This painting, "Road Trip 1963" was pivotal for Christianson. It became the first in a series of family paintings-portraits, landscapes, road-trip scenes. "A sense of optimism runs through these paintings. We are all a product of our environment and our family, and since California is where I grew up, it's part of my sensibility. These paintings solidified my understanding of where I've come from and who I am today."
Light, color and composition are important tools for Christianson. "I think that my California sensibility about color has now merged into my images of Minnesota, because I look for a quality of light," she said.
Christianson has just finished a new series of landscape paintings she's calling "The Eye on the Road," after a recent road trip.
An earlier series of paintings, which she named "Passing View," felt to Christianson like an umbrella statement of everything she does. "I like the double entendre. When I'm traveling, it's the passing view; when I'm capturing my family pictures it's a view of the past. Everything I paint, when you think about it, is capturing a moment in time."