This article is part of a series funded by Great Meadows Foundation.
Figurative painter Dean Christensen was in kindergarten when the importance of art became real to him. He was eager to show his classmates a Pokemon card, the snake Ekans to be exact. There was a problem. He didn’t have that card. His mother Laurie drew the Pokemon for him, “and I was just like, you don’t even need to buy these things. You can make them if you learn how to draw.”
Astounded by 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 exhibition at Galerie Hertz, “The Millennial Man: Me, My Selfie and I.” His paintings explore the influence of smartphones on how we see ourselves and understand life.
Now Christensen is 29, living in Brooklyn, and he’s taking requests. Or, more accurately, he’s taking questions. If you would like to know more about him and his art, tag him in an Instagram Story @deansace_official with your questions for him.
We’ll 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 I thought that I was stupid. But having this hyper-focus on art, it has become my safe haven. It’s the thing that I am good at, and I always go back to it because it is this place that I feel I have value.
When you create art, do you think about audience perception?
That’s a really good question. I think I do. But if I’m ever making a painting to get a response out of other people exclusively, it’s incredibly draining. The paintings I do fully for myself are really energizing, and because of that, I end up caring less 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 that are interested in art but don’t think of it as a feasible profession. And I like to feel like I am that person who makes them realize, ‘if he can do it, then I can do it.’ My audience is so diverse. All of my art shows are full of all different types of people, all ages, all genders, all races. It’s really important to me for it to be that way and for it to feel open and inclusive for everybody. The demographic insights on Instagram tell me my audience is 50% female and 50% male, which I really love, but it would be better if they tracked a nonbinary option. It’s ridiculous they don’t have that.
Your work has clearly been celebrated and admired by many people. Have you ever gotten feedback or read a review of your work that was negative?
There was a critique of my first show, and the paintings were massive selfies. The writer – whose review was entitled ‘Eager or Ego?’ – asked whether I was just obsessed with myself or if I was actually saying something with my art. I didn’t take it negatively because I wanted to be controversial enough to have that questions asked.
When you consider the world as you know it, what comes to mind first?
Connection. I feel that connection supersedes all other things. I don’t know who said this, but somebody said there are three things that connect people: God, love and art. That’s kind of what fills me up – to be able to have a physical show where I can meet people as opposed to interacting online, and actually have a connection.
Do you spend any time immersed in concerns about the world as you know it?
I worry all the time, especially because I live in New York. I do 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 seeing people happy, you know? But also – back to giving clarity for younger artists – that fuels me a lot. Being an example that shows that being an artist is possible. To give people some hope, you know, all those sheltered introverts out there.
Do you think that something needs to change in Louisville in order for artists to be able to live and work here and not move away?
Yes. Right now, there isn’t enough of a collector base. Artists are selling something that people don’t technically need. So we need people that really have a mindset for art collection. When it comes to placing monetary value on a painting, what people might not realize is that if it is priced at $44,000.00, for example, if you break that down by the hour, the artist is making under $20 an hour. It’s a tough, tough game. What Louisville artists need is a direct path to having relationships with collectors. In a way that’s the gallery model, but in my experience galleries rely on the artist to do the promotion, so we are bringing our collectors to the gallery. We need a way to connect the collectors to our work.
For my 2019 show ‘Felt Cute, Might Delete Later,’ I had full curatorial reign on that one. I thought about ways to make it memorable and use it to establish connections. And so I bought a football field’s worth of AstroTurf and covered the floor with it. The experience was interactive — I had a spinny wheel like ‘Wheel of Fortune’ and people could win prizes. One of the giveaways was a massive painting, which someone won. Doing it that way was cool. It was different.
What’s the deal with broccoli? Why do you have such an affinity for it?
That kind of started as a joke. I wanted to give people another reason to pay attention to my art. I wanted to have them walk away with something other than, ‘Oh, this guy paints his selfies.’ I have a message: eat broccoli, enjoy life. It became my motto. It started as thing between friends. People would talk about their problems and I would come back with ‘eat more broccoli.’
But then I severely broke my leg, and they said I wouldn’t be able to walk for six months. I was doing ice bathing, and I started eating strictly vegetarian for the first time in my life. I was able to walk within three-and-a-half months. So then it became like, okay, really eat broccoli. Broccoli saved me in this situation.
Visit Dean Christensen’s Instagram profile, @deansace_official, where he posts his work regularly. Note his profile picture. Broccoli Saves.
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