A bold approach

This oil on canvas 'Small Boats at Cuesta Cove' was painted not far from Ken Christensen's home in Los Osos.  22x28 $2,400
This oil on canvas 'Small Boats at Cuesta Cove' was painted not far from Ken Christensen's home in Los Osos. 22x28 $2,400

Ken Christensen participates in so many group shows and plein air festivals, the artist realized he hadn't been in a solo exhibit since the San Luis Obispo Art Center in 2002.

That is until now, where his colorful Fauve-style paintings seem to pop from the walls at Big Sky Cafe.

“A painting is something you want to have fun looking at,” Christensen believes. “I think if you work at that level, you've already accomplished something.” That's the main reason why he favors Fauvism. “My feeling is you want to grab people's attention,” he said. “Sometimes it takes a brighter bolder approach to get people to see things in a new way.”

Pioneered by Henri Matisse, the brief Fauvist movement in the early1900s was a natural progression from Post Impressionism, said Christensen, dealing with larger, solid areas of color, simpler forms and more of an emotional response. Christensen founded the New Fauvists, whose small membership ranges from the United States to Canada to France.

Most of the oil paintings on exhibit at Big Sky were painted en plein air on the Central Coast: a Victorian House in Cayucos, red-tiled rooftops in San Luis Obispo, Los Osos Valley Road farmland, boats at Cuesta Cove in Baywood Park, and the Morro Bay Estuary.

Christensen paints outdoors as often as possible, averaging five days a week. “The reward is just being there. It's kind of a bonus.”

Although Christensen grew up and lived for many years in Michigan, where he ran a gallery, a bookstore, and a puppet theater, his blood has apparently thinned since moving to Los Osos in 1998. He appreciates the recent warm days when he could comfortably paint outside. “It felt so good,” said Christensen, who turns 60 this year.

During the 1980s, Christensen spent nine years in Europe, mostly in London, Paris, and Spain. During that period, he worked as an artist, including being an official copyist at the Louvre Museum, and also taught English.

Now he gives weekly watercolor classes in Avila Beach and holds private plein air workshops as well.

“I like to teach, but not in schools or institutions,” Christensen said. He loves sharing the pleasure and experience of painting outside, and the camaraderie with the students.

Artist Laurel Sherrie, who has taken his workshops, said that it was liberating to learn that the do's and don'ts she'd been previously taught could be broken.

“You're not copying what you're looking at,” Christensen tells his students. “You're looking at a model.” There is no need to reproduce the same shade of green as the grass or the exact number of windows in a building. “You're creating a work of art which stands separate,” he said. “It's up to you, as an artist” to make the interpretation.

He does stress getting the values down pat, however. “If you get the right light, if you get the values right, the painting will succeed,” he said. “If you get the light right, then everything else will take care of itself.”