I mention this history because, for me it is hard to look at Don Christensen’s paintings and not relate them to his past music. Often built out of small rectangular hunks of wood, his pieces are literally percussive painting -- polyrhythmic, layered, structurally solid with plenty of synchopation and surprises on top. And like drumming which taps the most primal of sources, his paintings seem to emerge from a ritualized process, or at least a strong sensitivity to those impulses – a possible reflection of his deep interest in outsider artist Emery Blagdon. Also evident is a prevalent element of play that gives rise to unexpected shapes and lively juxtapositions. Some of his more recent paintings are direct enamel on canvas works that simplify the image and loosen the geometry, and in doing so, heighten the tension and focus of the configuration. In all his work, color is the key -- a lively animated substance that brings a kind of Pop humor, and also reads as celebratory.
Recently opened at Spanierman Modern in midtown, is the exhibition titled “Present Tense”, curated by Don Christensen and Mary Heilmann (thru Aug 2). This is a group show that includes abstract works by fourteen contemporary artists, including Christensen and Heilmann. According to the press release, “The works were selected on the basis of their ability to produce instant and visceral responses in the viewer, without the necessity of contextualization.” I like that -- and I look forward to seeing the show and reporting on it later.