He was whimsical. He was serious.
He painted religious themes. But his trademark image was a floating or flying fish, often on a leash.
He knew his Shakespeare. And he celebrated his Everyman, too — the podgy, humpback character who represented the imperfections in all of us.
James Christensen, the renowned fantasy artist inspired by the world’s myths, fables, and tales of imagination, left his mark on the art world, and the world in general, during his long and illustrious career of painting “the land a little to the left of reality.” His passing this January from cancer left collectors and lovers of his work saddened and bereft, as expressed by Todd Fulbright of Redmond, WA, who with his wife Jackie owns nearly 20 of Christensen’s art prints and porcelain figures:
“He will be missed by his family — a great father and husband and grandfather. For my own selfish reasons as an admirer of his work, I always looked forward to his next project.
“What a great imagination, and what fun characters he created!”
Among his many fans, Christensen’s creative genius is undisputed, but for those who had the privilege of meeting the artist in person, the experience has added even more dimension, personality, and warmth to their treasured collections.
“James was brilliant in his humor and intellect as it was ever present in his art,” says Dayton resident Lorrie Bensel, who used to gaze at Christensen’s window display at Wenaha Gallery in Dayton, and dream about some day buying one of the artist’s prints. Little did she foresee that, not only would she own a number of those prints, but would also meet Christensen in person, during a time when the artist visited the gallery and Bensel worked there.
“He made you feel like an old friend even upon a first meeting.”
Lael Loyd, present manager of the gallery, agrees, remembering her first meeting with Christensen in 2005, which was also her very first major artist show.
“I was so nervous!” Loyd recalls. “I stayed late to clean the floors the night before the show while Ed and Pat Harri, the owners of the gallery, went to pick up Christensen and his wife Carole at the Walla Walla Airport.” Loyd’s mind raced with Christensen images, embedded through weeks of preparing for the show, and she dreaded — but still hoped for — the possibility that Christensen would pop by that night.
“Sure enough, he did!
“He walked in and immediately put me at ease. The next day, when he came in for the show, it was like we were old friends.”
A talented but regular guy, as Loyd phrases it, Christensen explained to her that he had worked out a system with his wife, Carole, to “rescue” him from being buttonholed in the corner by enthusiastic fans, an occurrence which was not unusual because he didn’t know how to extricate himself without hurting feelings. When he tugged on his ear, Carole was to come over and move things along.
“At one show, James told me, a person was going into great detail telling about a dream he had, and how the artist should create a painting from this dream. After a few minutes, James tugged on his ear. No Carole.
“He tugged harder. Still no Carole.
“Finally, with both hands, he tugged frantically to catch her attention. He wasn’t sure that she hadn’t seen him the first time, but this gave me insight into his sense of humor, their relationship, and his reliance on her to help all go smoothly.”
Christensen, who began his career as a junior high school art teacher — slipping in freelance illustration and selling at sidewalk art fairs while raising a young family — lived to enjoy international acclaim. From winning all the professional art honors the World Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention can bestow to appearing on an episode of ABC’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition (in which he created a picture featuring a member of the family), Christensen never lost sight of the ordinary, regular person, and never doubted he was within their ranks.
“Believing is seeing,” was his philosophy, as he sought to teach people to use their imaginations to overcome the problems and stresses of living life. If Everyman could find a way, so could they.
“He will be sorely missed by many, as he touched many lives with his art and soul,” Bensel says.
Loyd agrees. “He helped me see life through a different pair of eyes.
“He will be missed, but more than that, he will be remembered and live on.”
Wenaha Gallery is holding a special Tribute to James Christensen Saturday, April 1, from 1 to 4 p.m., and invites all Christensen fans, long-time and brand new, to visit and view Christensen’s art. During the Tribute, as well as for Christensen’s month-long Art Event (March 27 – April 22), the Gallery will display every single Christensen artwork, porcelain, book, DVD, and puzzle in its collection, with many being discounted on April 1, only.
Also on April 1 is a special art show for Pamela Claflin of Kennewick, WA. Claflin’s richly colored oil paintings capture the unique landscape of the Pacific Northwest. The artist will be on hand to meet and greet, and free refreshments are provided.
Contact the gallery, located at 219 East Main Street, Dayton, WA, by phone at 509.382.2124 or e-mail email@example.com. Gallery hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. from Monday through Saturday, and by appointment. Visit the Wenaha Gallery website online at www.wenaha.com.
Wenaha Gallery is your destination location for Greenwich Workshop Fine Art Prints, professional customized framing, and original fine art paintings and sculpture by notable Pacific Northwest artists. Books, gifts, note cards, jigsaw puzzles, and more are also available. Visit the gallery today!