At the far end of the studio, a life-sized woman, daydreaming in a brilliant red skirt, fills a huge canvas. Her gaze turns away from me, and I am weightless again in the dreamy abstracted space, textured with atmospheric grids and patterns. Confident gestures, brilliant light and enormous swaths of color, layered in oil impasto and transparent slips—the compositions are unmistakably Linda Christensen’s. Christensen was struck by the work of Bay Area figurative painter David Park in the late ’80s, while a student in the UCSC Art Department.
“His impact was immediate, and it was emotional,” she says. Since then, and for many years now, she’s made a living reinventing the light and color of the Bay Area.
The day I visit her studio, which adjoins her Corralitos home, the petite Christensen is at work on four paintings. “I’m getting ready for several shows, one in Atlanta, another in Ketchum, Idaho, and a group show in Los Gatos,” she says.
These shows are part of the harvest of Christensen’s recent campaign to expand the visibility of her work. “I wanted to be more international in my reach,” she says.
Armed with a new website, a new artist statement, and more brochure packaging, her strategies are working. “I send out packets of images along with show announcements and catalogs. Then I wait,” she smiles. “In a few weeks, I do a follow-up, mention other galleries who are showing my work. Then I go back to work in the studio.” Then more office work, checking on responses, and doing more mailing. And with luck comes new interest. “A lot of galleries in New York now want realism,” she says. Sigh. “I fall somewhere in between expressionism and realism.” That signature style has found its way into many museums and private collections, including that of former Secretary of State, Condaleezza Rice.
After the end of her first marriage, Christensen went back to school while raising two daughters. Trying her hand at landscapes for a while, Christensen returned to freely abstracted figure paintings. “What repeats in my work is the solitary figure, always a woman. My daughter was my muse,” she says. “Then I add texture with patterns. I find repetition very soothing.”
Her predominant theme began as she watched a woman sitting at a car wash waiting for her car. “She was completely in her own thoughts, shoulders slumped, off-guard. That was the moment I was interested in,” Christensen says. The figures float in boldly abstracted spaces. “A lot of the time, painting is what you leave out.”
The painter worked with architects to design her large, sun-drenched studio. With state-of-the-art ventilation, and access to her adjoining office and storage, it is a painter’s dream. A small flat-screen TV is mounted on a bookcase over the studio sink. “I watch a black and white movie every day. I’ve got enough color in here as it is,” she laughs. And yes, Christensen works in her studio every day. “Because it calls me,” she says. “Plus, I’m driven by deadlines. I’ll come in and clean brushes, surfaces.” Then she’ll put out all her paints on a table-sized glass palette.
Working on three or four paintings at a time, her current works in progress —4′ by 4′ and 4′ by 5’— are vibrant with blues, greens and that brilliant crimson.
Intent on creating “happy accidents” that provoke an emotional response, she uses lots of self-fabricated stencils “just to mess with the work,” she explains. “I want to interfere with anything close to Disney-esque perfection. That moment of risk in my work—it’s inspiring for me.”
The painter takes care of obligations and phone calls in the morning. “Then about noon I’ll come in and work until dinner, or maybe no dinner—just keep working,” she says. “I love using a palette knife. That way there’s the least amount of control,” she reveals. “Also, that way the colors I apply stay fresh, they don’t blend and get muddy. Once I apply the large areas, then I do my magic,” she laughs. Christensen uses large brushes, palette knives, even huge carpentry trowels to apply paint, and she currently favors large tubes, fist-sized oil sticks and cans of Gamblin oil paint.
“I’m having a great time with it, but I let myself fall in love with my work,” she says. “I keep reaching, wanting to get at something that keeps eluding me.”
Born in the Bay Area, educated and based in Santa Cruz, Christensen and her work reflect our local landscape. “I like to think of it as ‘local girl makes good,’” she grins proudly. lindachristensen.net.