James Calvin Christensen, born 26 September 1942 to Harry and Sybil (Hill) Christensen, was raised in Culver City, California. His family lived just a few blocks from the MGM studio, and he often played with friends on the back lots of the studio’s movie sets which may have helped fire his imagination.
He studied at Santa Monica City College, UCLA and Brigham Young University, but interrupted his studies to serve on a mission in Uruguay for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. After returning to Utah he received his MA from BYU, and was a professor there for over 20 years.
A popular and award-winning artist, he is probably most well-known for his whimsical and surrealistic fairy tale figures. Many of his extravagantly over-dressed characters have elongated noses and chins, and one of his standard figures is the hunch-backed “everyman” who carries the weight of the world on his shoulders.
His creatures frequently seem to inhabit some unknown fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm, and are set in improbable and fantastic scenarios with butterflies and iguanas on leashes, flying pigs, or with characters using a pitchfork to row a boat.
Recurring symbols and metaphors in his work include checkerboards (often as tiled flooring or as part of the clothing design) which symbolizes the playing field of life—good and evil, life and death; fish floating in air (although sometimes they are in cages or on a leash) signify magic; and his “poofy guys” are dressed in multiple layers of rich fabric that according to the artist are a metaphor for self importance and earthly baggage, but could also represent the many ways people try to disguise their frailties.
Although he often leaves the symbolism to the viewer’s own imagination, the following description of ‘The Lawyer More than Adequately Attired in Fine Print’ from the Greenwich Workshop website provides the artist’s meaning for many of the details:
“In a world of black and white, this attorney feels more at ease in the gray areas. He contemplates the implications of a grain of truth, which is more than enough for a lawyer to build an entire case. An adequate supply of loopholes is sewn onto his coat. His fashion taste runs toward fine print (albeit he has his assistant check it for him). A stuffed and rather moldy owl sits strapped securely to his shoulder to give him the appearance of wisdom.” 3
In addition to his humorous and whimsical works, he has done still life studies and fairly straightforward portraits, some of which appear “aged” by craquelure. He is often inspired by old world masters and pays homage to their work, but of course in his own style.
1. James C. Christensen on Facebook
2. Men and Angels
The Art of James C. Christensen (pdf)
3. The Lawyer More than Adequately Attired in Fine Print