Selfie 2, oil on masnite, 4′ x 3′, Dean Christensen
The Millenial Man – ME, Myselfie, and I: New Work by Dean Christensen
Review by Keith Waits
Entire contents copyright © 2016 Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
What Dean Christensen is trying to do is something we don’t see local artists do very often: position himself as a multi media visual and performance artist with a ‘brand’ identity more like pop stars such as Madonna or Prince. That so much of it is in service to expressing the theme of self-obsession through media, particularly social media, doesn’t entirely relieve it of its own whiff of narcissism. For an artist’s first solo exhibition, its pretty heady stuff.
The meat of the exhibit is a host of large paintings, all of which are self-portraits. Many are recreations of ‘selfies’ shot with a cell phone and deliberately unflattering both in the angle of the composition and the exaggerated rendering of Christensen’s features. There is also a music video, “Limelight”, and a line of clothing, “Deansace”, featuring a pattern of Christensen’s face that during the opening was modeled by several of the artist’s friends.
As if all of this weren’t enough to make the point, there is a series of paintings labeled “Deanaissance”, and modeled on religious images that literally deify Christensen, positioning his sober visage above the viewer’s heads so that he may look down upon us with sufficient piety.
The overwhelming religiosity of the self-aggrandizement Christensen is examining is more subtly expressed without these last pieces, which are much too obvious, but I suppose one might forgive such excesses as the ambition of youth and the inevitable result of prodigious output. It even makes sense that, at the tender age of 23, Christensen would feel compelled to explicate every variation of his theme that might occur to him. Experience brings a greater level of critical self-examination, the ability to self-edit and focus in on a more stringent group of works.
The craft and technique of the paintings themselves is estimable, but the emerging celebrity buzz of the opening reception and attendant media coverage force one’s consideration past a pragmatic discussion of mark making or surfaces to delve deeper into the subject. Identity is one of the fundamental, pervasive themes in all art throughout history, and Christensen’s work weds the tactile expressionism of painting to the digital navel-gazing of a media-drenched contemporary society. But has the artist allowed himself to be caught up in the narcissism he so arduously speaks to? However self-aware and knowing his choices are, every single element of the exhibit is self-portrait, and in the video we see him wearing his own ‘Deansace’ apparel, creating layers to the identification that, curiously, have the effect of reinforcing the facile aspect of the theme rather than providing depth.
Because this is our first exposure to Christensen, it may be that we can only answer these questions when we see the next step in the young artist’s evolution. To meet him in person is to encounter a young talent struggling to contain (or release) all that he is capable of in this moment, not an egoist who imagines he is already a great artist. Yet it would also be reasonable to conclude that Christensen is himself a part of the social dynamic he critiques. His point-of-view ultimately is not that of an outsider, but of one who has occupied territory deep within the heart of the question.
In the Louisville art community, such multi-layered contextualization of celebrity and art is unique. Christensen stands apart from the mindset of most local artists of his generation, even while his impressive way with the medium echoes the work of older, more experienced painters.
The Milllenial Man – ME, Myselfie, and I: New Work by Dean Christensen
January 17 – February 27, 2016
1253 South Preston Street
Louisville, KY 40203
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being one of the hosts of PUBLIC on ARTxFM, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.