The Power of Place: Christine Rasmussen’s Urban Landscapes
by Nancy Kay Turner
Christine Rasmussen’s compelling body of paintings, aptly entitled “Liminal Transcendence,” cleverly references California’s much vaunted car culture by situating the viewer in an unseen parking lot or structure facing outward towards bleak streets, anonymous architecture and painted over graffitied, corrugated metal security fences and walls. Paradoxically, these paintings are both acutely observed and seemingly invented, existing at the threshold between, as Rasmussen says in her artist statement, “the real and the imagined.” Rasmussen masterfully orchestrates this ambiguity and in doing so transforms the mundane into the mysterious, the ordinary into the extraordinary.
“View From The Parking Lot,” is reminiscent of De Chirico’s iconic surreal painting, “Melancholy and the Mystery of the Street,” with its unexpected tilted perspective, highly delineated shadows, virtually deserted streets and generic architecture, except that Rasmussen suffuses her street scene with crisp California light under a cloudless blue sky, and surrounded by cheeky bubble gum pink walls.
Looming barriers and fences play an important role here, as in “Shadowed Serenity.” The hard surfaces of asphalt, concrete, corrugated metal, and wood contrast with the soft, velvety cotton candy-colored clouds drifting lazily in the sky. One acutely feels the tension between the claustrophobic feel of the fenced-in area versus the freedom of the open spaces beyond the wall. Wooden poles rise like urban tree substitutes. Instead of sun dappled on a wall, one sees layers of paint erasing unwanted graffiti - an urban jungle indeed. One remembers Robert Frost’s famous line “…something there is that doesn’t love a wall….”
In “Jet Stream Horizon” the sky becomes a character providing a refuge and a retreat for the viewer. Eventually the serenely beautiful skyscape takes center stage, eclipsing industrial buildings which are reduced to a colorful strip residing near the bottom of the painting. Here Rasmussen elegantly manipulates both abstraction and figuration, almost turning this into a color field painting. The poetic and dreamy “Cloud Jikan” features the setting sun as it lights up the sky one last time. A lonely small gray cloud drifts by. Beautifully nuanced coloration ranges from the sizzling but fading orange into a lilac infused blue. One reluctantly brings one’s gaze down to the wall -- security light and razor wire. Back to gritty reality. The unusual composition, relentlessly vertical, makes this a sublime frozen moment captured forever.
In “Archil Threshold,” Rasmussen frames the view through an opening, reinforcing
the notion of being caught between two spaces - being inside and outside at the same time. Desert colors reminiscent of O’Keefe’s landscapes dominate here as well - the pastel blue sky crisscrossed with white clouds, the weathered grayed teal blue painted aluminum and the sharp pink shard of light streaming in. This body of work was begun in 2020 during the pandemic where all life as we know it seemed suspended, as if we were all just holding our collective breath. Rasmussen captures this time of uncertainty with both clarity and elegance, willing the viewer to stand still long enough to cherish the beauty all around us.
Nancy Kay Turner
The Yin and the Yang of Christine Rasmussen’s Recent Paintings
by David S. Rubin
Christine Rasmussen believes that beauty or intrigue can be unearthed in virtually anything, even in mundane settings such as barren industrial landscapes that are the primary subjects of her recent paintings. Accordingly, while painting during Covid-19 lockdown, she carefully manipulated perspective, color, and other compositional elements to transform images of urban settings devoid of people into scenarios that can seem mysterious, energetic, tranquil, or even sublime. In Atmospheric Escape (2020), for example, dynamic patterns of corrugated metal and barbed wire fencing in the foreground create a visually riveting spatial ambiguity as they divert our attention away from the buildings behind them. In Lustrous Lull (2021), two adjoining building facades are sectioned off and painted different colors so that they resemble flat geometric planes, with their drain pipes seeming sculptural and anthropomorphic. Rather than being factual, these paintings of specific locations are grounded partly in reality, and partly in the artist’s imagination. They are what the artist refers to as “in-between spaces,” places defined by intentional ambiguities that should impel viewers to ask questions about what we are looking at or to invent narratives in response to what we are seeing.
Rasmussen’s approach is guided in part by her interest in the ancient Chinese philosophical principle of the yin-yang, the balance of opposing forces—including good and bad—which are viewed as interconnected and complementary. Analogous to some extent to the laws of physics, the concept implies that when life moves in one direction it must eventually rebound in the other. Such ideas are particularly meaningful to Rasmussen because, at the start of the pandemic, she felt isolated and depressed. In the earlier paintings from the current body of work, such as Lucent Aura (2020) and Brilliant Passage (2020), the compositions are dominated by architectural structures that call attention to the material, human constructed world and all its problems. By contrast, in later works painted after vaccines made it possible to interact with others again, such as Luminous Silhouette (2021) and Twilight Tranquility (2021), the focus is largely on sky, which the artist equates with hopefulness and spirituality. In her own way, Rasmussen conquered her blues by healing herself through making art.
One of the more fascinating aspects of Rasmussen’s latest paintings is that the yin-yang duality isn’t the only set of opposites that runs through them. Stillness and motion, for example, are contrasted in Dusky Contours (2021), where the anchored stability of block-like buildings is countered by the implicit movements of clouds soaring upwards. We can also interpret the same painting as juxtaposing the geometric with the organic, the solid with the amorphous, the finite with the infinite, or the material with the spiritual. As a healthy antidote to these difficult times, Rasmussen’s paintings invite contemplation of the cyclical nature of opposing forces, reminding us that our darkest days are always temporary.
David S. Rubin is a Los Angeles-based curator, writer, and artist. As a curator, he has held positions at MOCA Cleveland, Phoenix Art Museum, Contemporary Arts Center New Orleans, and San Antonio Museum of Art. As a writer he has contributed to Arts Magazine, Art in America, Artweek, ArtScene, Glasstire, Fabrik, Art and Cake, and Visual Art Source. He has published numerous exhibition catalogs, and his curatorial archives are housed in the Smithsonian Institution’s Archives of American Art.