The “vibrations” emanating from Diane Christiansen’s paintings are palatable. The known, yet unknowable shapes and colors beckon the viewer to come closer and join in on the conversation. The Chicago based painter, singer and therapist says creating these linkages is vital not just to her art but to living. “That’s where I start everything because THAT is where the spark is. That’s where the life is. And as far as I can tell that is why artists make art, because it makes you feel alive on this earth.”
Christiansen, a lifelong Buddhist has unlimited energy and when she speaks about creativity her eyes light up. It’s contagious. She has a zest and curiosity for anything and everything. Often the subject of her work centers around serious, heavy issues about life, death, and impermanence. For Christiansen the work starts on the pages of a notebook she is never without. “Almost every day I noodle around in my drawing book with lots of representations. I think of everything as having relationships and nothing is in isolation.” Her relational viewpoint is not surprising given Christiansen’s long practice in a parallel profession as an internal family systems therapist. “I feel like I am a collector and connector.” Christiansen says her practice as a therapist helps her akin to the emotions people around her are feeling. Those emotions often end up in her work. Some might think her paintings and drawings are abstract; a catagory Christiansen pushes back against.
” I think of everything as animate and everything is connected, and everything is speaking. I don’t think of anything as abstract. However, I love shape and form and color, but that doesn’t have anything to do with content. “
Christiansen received her BFA in art from Grinnell College in Grinnell, Iowa and her MFA from the Chicago School of the Art Institute in Illinois. Her work has been widely exhibited in galleries and museums including the Museum of Contemporary Art. Her work has also been about is art publications such as Hyperallergic.
With her decades of making art, she has become fearless in her studio. She often takes cues from the environment around her and experiments with lots of different materials. Sometimes it works and other times it doesn’t. But the steadfast creator doesn’t let the work go to waste. Christiansen always finds new ways of using what most people would throw out. “Everything gets re-used. It’s layering and collaged. Nothing gets thrown away. It gets chopped up and alchemized into something else.”
Christiansen also works in stop-motion animation, an artform she discovered when searching for a way to make a drawing called “cocoon girl” move. The simple animation gave the drawing exactly what it needed and planted the seed for a collaboration that continues to this day with fellow artist and animator Allie Trigoso. Christiansen is also working on another upcoming animation with Shoshanna Utchenik and Jeanne Dunning. Christiansen says the animation gives life to her work and herself. “Art that really moves me, I feel like my chest expands and it’s worth being alive and honestly that is one of the reasons why I keep animating because I think it helps people move into another world and look at painting differently.” The success with the collaboration is not surprising. Christiansen has been collaborating with all different kinds of artists for years. It started with a collaboration in music with her husband Steve Dawson and his bands “Dolly Varden” and “Lucid Dreams”. Christiansen has been a singer, songwriter for the bands and has even created the covers for multiple albums. For Christiansen, creating music is just another avenue for connection, just like her paintings.
When asked what she like the viewers of her art to feel, Christiansen said she wants people to feel the same way she does.” I’m making art to connect with the world and to be alive as I can in the time I’m here.”
Connect on Instagram at @diane_christiansen