figurative Painter Dean Christensen was in kindergarten when he realized the importance of art. He was dying to show his classmates a Pokémon card, the snake Ekans to be exact. There was a problem. He didn’t have that card. His mom, Laurie, drew the Pokemon for him, “and I just thought, you don’t even have to buy those things. You can do them if you learn how to draw.”
Amazed at the possibilities, the budding Louisville artist began drawing his own Pokemon cards.
Fast forward 17 years to 2016 and Christensen would have his first solo show at Galerie Hertz, The Millennial Man: Me, My Selfie and I. His paintings explore the impact of smartphones on how we see ourselves and understand life.
Now Christensen is 29, lives in Brooklyn and takes requests. Or more precisely, he takes questions. If you want to learn more about him and his art, tag him on an Instagram story @deansace_official with your questions for him.
We go first. We have questions!
Is your artwork defined by trauma in any way?
it has to be you know I’ve always had ADHD and thought I was stupid. But with this hyper-focus on art, it has become my safe haven. That’s the thing I’m good at and I keep coming back to it because I feel like I’m valuable in that place.
When creating art, do you think about the audience’s perception?
That’s a really good question. I think so. But if I ever do a painting just to get a reaction from other people, it’s incredibly exhausting. The pictures that I take all by myself are really stimulating and so it doesn’t matter as much to me whether people like it or not because I had fun.
What do you see when you close your eyes and imagine your audience?
I see younger people who are interested in art but don’t think it’s a viable career. And I like to feel like I’m that person who tells them, ‘If he can do it, so can I.’ My audience is so diverse. All my art shows are full of people of all ages, all genders, all races. It’s really important to me that it’s like this and that it feels open and inclusive for everyone. The demographics on Instagram tell me that my audience is 50% female and 50% male, which I really love, but it would be better if they pursued a non-binary option. It’s ridiculous that they don’t have that.
Her work was clearly celebrated and admired by many people. Have you ever received feedback or read a negative review of your work?
There was a critique of my first show and the pictures were huge selfies. The Author – whose review was titled Eager or Ego? – asked if I’m just obsessing over myself or if I’m actually saying something with my art. I didn’t take it negatively because I wanted to be controversial enough to have these questions asked.
When you look at the world as you know it, what comes to mind first?
Connection. I feel like connection supersedes all other things. I don’t know who said that, but someone said that there are three things that connect people: God, love and art. That’s what fulfills me – having a physical show where I can meet people instead of interacting online and actually have a connection.
Do you spend time wondering about the world as you know it?
I worry all the time, especially since I live in New York. I’m doing a very unpredictably paying job in one of the most expensive places in the world.
Bottom line, what do you want to give to people in this life?
Joy. I really like to see people happy, you know? But also – back to clarity for younger artists – that drives me a lot. To be an example that shows that it is possible to be an artist. To give people some hope, you know, all those sheltered introverts out there.
Do you think something needs to change in Louisville so that artists can live and work here and not move away?
Yes. There is not enough collector base at the moment. Artists are selling something that people technically don’t need. So we need people who really have an art collecting mindset. When it comes to putting a monetary value on a painting, people may not realize that if the price is say $44,000.00, when broken down by hour, the artist is making less than $20 an hour. It’s a tough, tough game. What Louisville artists need is a direct way to build relationships with collectors. In a way that’s the gallery model, but in my experience galleries rely on the artist to do the advertising, so we bring our collectors into the gallery. We need a way to connect collectors to our work.
For my 2019 exhibition Feel Cute, Might Delete Later, I had full curatorial authority over these. I thought about how to make it memorable and make connections. So I bought a football field’s worth of artificial grass and covered the ground with it. The experience was interactive – I had a spinning wheel like Wheel of Fortune and people could win prizes. One of the giveaways was a giant painting that someone won. It was cool to do that. It was different.
What’s the deal with broccoli? Why do you have such an affinity for it?
That started out as a joke. I wanted to give people another reason to pay attention to my art. I wanted them to walk away with something other than, ‘Oh, this guy takes his selfies.’ I have a message: eat broccoli, enjoy life. It became my motto. It started as a thing between friends. People talked about their problems and I came back with “eat more broccoli”.
But then I badly broke my leg and they said I couldn’t walk for six months. I went ice bathing and went strict vegetarian for the first time in my life. Within three and a half months I was able to walk again. So it got like, okay, really eat broccoli. Broccoli saved me in this situation.
Visit Dean Christensen’s Instagram profile @deansace_official where he regularly posts his work. Note his profile picture. Broccoli saves.
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