Sunday, January 22, 2017
When I Met James C. Christensen and Saw His Art Studio
Around a decade ago my Mom, brother Steven, and I had the opportunity to visit James C. Christensen in his home. It was thanks to a family friend who had been Christensen's home teacher for a few years that helped make this happen. When we went I thought it was just to chat with him, and that would be it, but thankfully it wasn't.
He was so generous with his time. Gracious. Humble. For those who don't know James C. Christensen, he's a painter known for his whimsical fantasy art, inspired by the renaissance. Honestly, I don't own any of his pieces, though I wish I could. I first learned about him when I was much younger, visiting my favorite beach town in Central California named Cambria. There were a few art galleries down its quaint main road, one of which housed several of Christensen's art. At first I didn't even know he was LDS, I was just in awe of his imagination, and every time we would visit I always went to look at his new pieces on display.
When I transferred to BYU in the early 2000's there was a collection of his latest paintings featuring woman of the medieval/renaissance, encased in the most gorgeous frames. It was on the main ground level of the Harris Fine Arts building, H-FAC for short, where rotating art displays are shown year around. My Mom and I marveled over thirty minutes looking at each piece, wondering who the artist was, until we discovered it was James C. Christensen. We were both amazed. They were all so beautiful.
When we visited with Christensen we got to sit in his living room, and he just let us ask all these questions. My Mom and Steven asked him several questions about art and its process. I spent most of the time just listening. But there was one thing he talked about that has stayed with me. He talked about when he was younger he always feared that once he used up his good ideas there wouldn't be any more. But he has found that as he's created, more ideas would come, and after he used those ideas, even more came after that. If you're afraid to use ideas and keep just those to yourself, that's all you'll ever have. You have to be willing to create. Don't be afraid of running out of ideas. This is a fear I have now as I've started writing fiction and working on stories, so this advice from someone so creative is very inspiring.
I can't remember how long we talked with him, but it seemed like over an hour, after which he took us to his art studio in the attic. It was a large space, much larger than I thought it would be, with work tables and art scattered about in various stages and trails. Large windows letting in delicate light, perfect for painting. He was working on a painting similar to The Yellow Rose; I just remember him working on a piece with a woman, face in profile, holding a flower.
I'm very thankful for that day and what I learned.
James C. Christensen passed away a couple weeks ago, which has brought all this forward in my memory. I pray his family is doing okay with his passing. In heaven I bet he's creating the most wonderful art.