When she began painting images from family slides she inherited, artist Francene Christianson captured familiar moments in time that resonated with her viewers. Today, she continues to paint from photography to tell stories through her oil-on-canvas works, of landscapes and figures that speak universal truths about beauty and togetherness.
“When you do a good job with one of these, it’s a bit like a short story,” says Christianson, who paints from her home studio in Minnetonka. Her Yosemite series, painted from slides of family vacations in the 1960s, earned her numerous awards and accolades. Her paintings have been shown at venues in the Twin Cities, including the Minnetonka Center for the Arts, the Minnesota State Fair and Art-A-Whirl. Christianson began her fine art career 15 years ago after moving to Minnesota and away from her background in commercial art. A California native, she paints landscapes inspired by her West Coast roots, as well as Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Her most recent paintings are still inspired by photography, but Christianson says she is continuing to learn how to control the narrative. “When I started, I stayed pretty true to the photograph. It was part of the process for me to learn how to combine photographs and delete things, and that I am in control of all this,” says Christianson. “By changing the color, it can be happy and joyful or kind of somber. I am looking at the past, but tweaking it in a way that is universal and that hopefully is exciting and meaningful now.”
One of her recent works, "Sea Glass Hunter," is a combination of photos from a trip to Sicily and a trip to Mexico. “When I am at the beach, I love to hunt for sea glass. For me it’s a very personal painting, because it’s something that I truly love, but walking on the beach is also something that anybody can love,” says Christianson.
Adding on to her Family series, silhouette paintings like "In the Pool #3" also combine her passions for landscape and figure work. Inspired by images shot at her son’s pool party, Christianson says the more free-form painting in this series captures “the joyfulness and weightlessness of being in the pool.” Christianson’s family includes husband Phil and two children, Jack and Leah.
Christianson’s artwork is currently featured at the Grand Hand Gallery in St. Paul and in Uptown at Doug Flanders and Associates. In January she has an exhibition at the Commons in Excelsior that will run through February 24. Christianson also does commissioned work, including painting from clients’ own family photos.
“I feel like I’m really fortunate to have moved to Minnesota, and I really feel lucky. There are so many opportunities for artists here,” she says. “There’s a creative soul to Minnesota, and I feel like for someone like me it has been a really wonderful place to do what I do. I really feel grateful.”
Exhibition at The Commons
Through February 24; reception January 19 at 5:30 p.m.