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James Calvin Christensen
(Culver City, California, 1942 - 2017, Orem, Utah)
James Christensen is an artist who captures our curiosity with a delightful combination of innocence and humor. "My aim," says Christensen, "always begins with a desire to connect with imagination." He adds, "My work is an invitation to let your imagination run wild, explore, and make interpretations spontaneously."
James Christensen, son of Sibyl and Harry Christensen, was born September 26, 1942, in Culver City, California. He grew up two blocks from the MGM studio; consequently, he and his friends often played in the back lot of the studio in Tarzan's pond or on sets for movies such as Gone With the Wind. James loved to tell stories and use his imagination while playing and drawing.
Christensen attended Santa Monica City College, UCLA, and BYU, where he received his Master of Arts. In the middle of his studies, he served a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) in Uruguay and became a member of the Mormon Mods, a performing group that toured Chile, Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay. Christensen found the local art compelling, and its influence can be seen in many of his works.
In 1972, Christensen moved to American Fork, Utah, and became an associate art director for the New Era, a teen magazine published by the LDS Church. He was also a freelance illustrator but continually worked on his own painting. Christensen created fantasy images for his own amusement, but he only displayed what he thought other people would like. However, he soon discovered that others liked his imaginative, magical worlds as much as he did.
Christensen was a faculty member of BYU's art department from 1976 to 1997. He traveled with students in Mexico, Europe, and in Madrid, Spain. He returns to Europe frequently, and his art often reflects his travels.
Weaving dreams, hopes, fears, and humor into the fabric of everyday life, Christensen has created many enchanting works of art. "My paintings are meant to excite the imagination and invite the viewer to become a participant in the creative process," says Christensen. His artwork delights adults and children alike.
James Christensen draws his images from experience, travel, and nature, which he combines with his own active imagination. While he does not always strive to communicate a serious meaning or moral lesson, his paintings often reflect situations which he has personally experienced and with which the viewer can also easily relate.
In his painting The Rhinoceros, Christensen has reinterpreted a sixteenth-century drawing of an armored rhinoceros created by the German artist, Albrecht Dùrer. Abundant detail, scientific perspective, logical space, light, color, and implied texture are characteristic of Christensen's fantasy environments.
In the piece, the rhino is in a predicament: he is unable to go forward, but can't go back. The plastered room, painted to imitate the outdoors, offers the rhino no room to maneuver. The checkerboard floor is painted to give an illusion of depth in a room that has none, and the rhino is so cramped he cannot play with the tantalizingly close orange ball. The tick-bird remains loyal to his symbiotic friend because he also is trapped.