Alumni News: Issac Christensen

Issac standing

“It may seem ironic that a mostly Scandinavian blooded man would choose to paint a series of portraits of American Indians. As far as I know the blood of no former Indian killer runs through my veins. My ancestors are recent immigrants who “missed out” on the holocaust of the American Indian. At first I was inspired to paint them as a political statement. I imagined exhibiting them and spray-painting giant black x’s over them to represent the beautiful culture that white man uprooted, murdered, and placed on reservations, but perhaps worst of all, introduced to alcohol.

My mom and a friend both agreed that making it a political statement distracted from, and perhaps cheated, the underlying message: there are lessons to be learned from the first peoples of this land other than political messages. I’m drawn to the way of life of the American Indian. I’m disturbed by the adoption rate of new technology in a land where there is no precedent for such a rate, and no spiritual body collectively speaking out against its dangers. The way of life of the American Indian is a time-tested system that endured for thousands of years.

My paintings are largely interpretative, with no implied meaning other than hope that those who look upon them will dig deep inside themselves and think about the way of life these people lived. I hope they consider the irony of a white man painting them, and how they might look different if an American Indian did using the same technique.

Accusing me of cultural appropriation may be justified. That also is a part of the message. The message is only about me so far as it reflects positively upon them. And if I am looked upon less favorably for appropriating a culture I long for and revere, a little less attention upon white culture, pop culture, will be the result – and that’s a good thing.

My technique: The portraits are inspired by the photography of Edward S. Curtis, using the spontaneous direct painting method, alla prima. All of Curtis’ work is black & white, I render the paintings in color. The relationships of the colors aren’t researched or planned, receiving their inspiration only from whatever parts of academic training is buried away in my subconscious. The irony of the bold use of color is that line is the key to my work. There are so many different types of line. Smooth ones, jagged ones, scribbly ones, thick ones, thin ones. The spontaneous and varied application of the many different types of line, along with the need to immediately transition from one type of line to another within the same stroke is important. I try to harness the spirit of Egon Schiele in that vein. A thick phthalo blue outline, with sometimes smooth, sometimes jagged edges, is a common trait to all of the portraits. I abstain from neutrals as much as possible.”

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