If you were to look over artist Cheri Christensen’s work at a glance, you might think that her work is exclusively dedicated to the portrayal of barn yard animals. And while you might be right in your original assessment, you are only partially right. Christensen’s work is deep, complex. Where the common observer sees as a painting of a pig or a cow, the true art enthusiast sees a relationship between light and colors that form together to illustrate or discuss the state that the subject is in. We recently had the opportunity to speak with Cheri Christensen about her barn yard series, what being a teacher means to her work, and what her fans can look forward too!
Q: Let’s begin with how you were introduced to The Eisenhauer Gallery. It is the only art gallery that you work with in the entire East Coast, how did your relationship begin and how is the New England area significant to you
Cheri Christensen: Well, Elizabeth Eisenhauer called me saying someone had recommended me for Eisenhauer Gallery, and she wanted to see if I’d be interested in showing there. I started off showing at her Block Island Gallery and when she opened her gallery on Martha’s Vineyard it was only natural that I also showed there. I’ve been to Martha’s Vineyard quite a few times and it really resonates well with what I’m trying to portray with my farm animals. Treating the animals with dignity and respect, and the way it keeps it’s rural past alive. I’ve worked with the Farm Institute there and I really like the way the Island understands their relationship with the farm animals and the commitment they have to educating their children how important this is to their way of life.
Q: Your work is inspired by interactions between animals and their environment. You have made it clear that your upbringing in a rural community is the influence behind your work. Will the animal series be your legacy?
Cheri Christensen: I did grow up in a rural environment with dairy farms and cattle ranches, so it has a big impact on my work. I relate well with the animals so I enjoy having them as subjects. Just hanging with them and photographing them really interest me. Their interaction with each other and their environment fascinates me.
Q: Do you ever want to extend into different forms?
Cheri Christensen: What I really paint is color and light. The animals are just the subject matter I choose to interpret the relationships of color and light. However, I occasionally branch out to different subjects. Street scenes, restaurant scenes along with the occasional farmer, but it’s all about color and light.
Q: Each painting has a unique name that describes the action that is being displayed. Do you come up with each name as you paint or is it the final product that determines each name?
Cheri Christensen: Sometimes I come up with the name as I’m photographing and watching the animal. Other times it’s as I’m painting. Sometimes neither of these happen and I’m left trying to title it as I’m shipping it out. I like it best when the title comes first!
Q: When someone views one of your paintings, are you trying to share a sense of your home growing up? What is the relationship you try to develop through your work?
Cheri Christensen: I’m trying to share my relationship with the animal. How I see it, and how it makes me feel. The sense of peace it brings me seeing a flock of sheep grazing, lazily baaing, or bleating to their young. The way a cow looks at you and you wonder who really has it together? Who is more content, is more a part of this earth and more connected to it? I’m an observer, and the viewer of my paintings hopefully can observe this through my painting and also bring a little bit of themselves to it or a part of a past that they have become disconnected from.
Q: Your resume is quite extensive and includes numerous awards from communities and art organizations alike. You have also invested yourself in teaching various workshops within The United States and in Italy. Describe the differences between being the artist who is critiqued, and being the teacher who critiques.
Cheri Christensen: Well, I teach because someone gave me the opportunity to learn and it changed my life, so I feel it’s only right to pass that knowledge on. When I teach, yes I am critiquing but I try to remember what it’s like to be that student trying so hard, and try to be gentle or present my critique in such a way to best serve the individual student. We are always learning and it’s part of the process, not necessarily right or wrong but just adjustments along the way, fine tuning it. With painting the whole process is about relative values, color and temperature and you can’t make those corrections until it’s on the canvas. We are all students, the professional artist or beginner so I guess we are just the same but perhaps at different levels or places along our path. As a professional artist I feel it’s up to us to decide what to take in on the level of critique. Everyone has their own opinions and that’s good, even if it doesn’t agree with mine. That’s why there is a lot of different art out there for different people to appreciate.
Q: How has teaching influenced your work and perspective as a professional artist?
Cheri Christensen: I learn a lot when I teach. I’ve learned to go back to the basics if all else fails! When you’re a professional artist you are always testing and trying new things. Sometimes just keeping it simple is all that is needed and teaching is a good reminder of that. The student needs me to simplify things for them and so does the observer. It’s good to keep in mind. Less can be more.
Q: What can your fans look forward to next?
Cheri Christensen: I find that the longer I paint the more I become obsessed with the paint itself. I like the texture of paint, how it’s laid on or slowly drug across the canvas. As I go forward that is the direction I’d like to go, whether I’m painting animals or something else, expressing myself more with the texture and feel of the paint. Going from Impressionism more to Expressionism, not just what the subject looks like, but what the subject feels like