Eva Christensen was interviewed by Mark Kilfoil of the CHSR program "The Lunchbox" on June 20th, 2019.
MK: I’d like to welcome Eva Christensen to the show, welcome!
EC: Thank you!
MK: Did I get your name right? I had trouble with that a moment ago.
EC: You did, you got it perfectly right, yes. Thank you!
MK: Now we’re ahead of things a little bit. You’re going to be heading in to do your Artists in Residence practice here in a few days. That’s going to be down in the barracks, right?
EC: Yes! It is starting June 24th.
MK: So what sort of art do you do?
EC: Well, it’s kind of hard to pin yourself down to one thing, but in my heart I’m a realistic artist. I’ve kind of experimented with things over the years, but I’m happy representing my real world around me. And I’m interested in capturing memories and moments and things that make me feel sentimental and good.
MK: That sounds like a great start. What kind of media do you use?
EC: Primarily, I would consider myself to be an oil painter. When I’m doing my residency, starting next week, I’ll be going back to my first love and what I learned to paint in first, which was watercolours. My husband and I are actually in the process of moving our lives to Fredericton right now, and when I had applied the residency program, it just happened that all of my art stuff is currently in storage back in Ontario, so I kind of turned things around quickly and have gone back to my watercolour roots, which is completely manageable to do. I think it will capture some of the spontaneity and the urban scenes around Fredericton that I’m aiming for.
MK: So how far back does this go for you? How many years have you been working in this medium?
EC: Well, I’ve been painting as long as I can remember; painting, drawing, creating… I used to just sit in the basement when I was really little and just scribble thing, one page after another, and it just became a lot more serious for me when I was twelve, thirteen years old. I was lucky enough that we lived just down the street from a watercolour painter, like a real-life artist, Ann Fullerton, and she took me under her wing, showed me what a proper paintbrush should be, not just something from a Crayola kit. She showed me what real paints were and what a real artist store would look like, and she did a lot for me. So when I say watercolour is my first love, that was really where it all started for me. So, I’m happy to go back to it now.
MK: I do apologize for some of the background sounds. The air conditioning started to change over seasons I think. Normally these recordings are done down in the Barracks anyway, so there’s usually a lot of echoey sounds and all kinds of things. We’ll just pretend we’re right there now.
EC: It’s just the ambiance (laughs).
MK: So, at twelve, were you getting any actual art instruction in school, or was it all coming from this very lucky coincidence of a neighbour?
EC: There were the board certified art classes in school…
MK: Is that spelled B-O-R-E-D?
EC: Perhaps (laughs). But up until that point, there was just no professional directed training from someone. But again, I seem to have had a lucky streak in my art life. For high school, I went to a regional arts high school. I had to apply to get in, and for the next five years in Ontario, it was just something out of the movie Fame. We had dancers stretching at the lockers, we had actors on top of the picnic tables at lunch, and we had the visual artists who were just weighed down with all the supplies and canvases, going back and forth. And so between Ann Fullerton and then this really focused high school experience… a lot of those classmates I had went on to become real-life artists. It was an exceptional amount of training.
MK: That must have been fun, but there would also be a kind of pressure involved in something like that, right?
EC: There was a lot of pressure, and eventually, close to the end of high school, I chose not to pursue art as a profession. It may always be one of those could’ve/would’ve/should’ve things. I went in a totally different direction for university — sciences and healthcare. There was a really long break where I just didn’t enjoy painting so much anymore. And one of the big things back then for me was it just didn’t feel super okay to just be painting the things that you love or just be depicting these realistic scenes. But now I feel like I’m doing it more for myself, and I’ve returned to it, and I’m only doing it as long as it’s enjoyable for me. Luckily, it seems that other people are kind of recognizing that they like what I’m doing too, so that’s really validating.
MK: Was there a sense that painting had to be illustrative of abstract concepts? Moving away from realism? What was the sense then?
EC: Back when I was in high school, I think I didn’t feel like I was experimental enough, and again, I feel like I got sort of left behind in the style that I liked to do. I think of one of my absolute favourite artists, Edward Hopper. But at the time, it just felt that there was necessarily a place for me to move forward with it, and being really future and career and academic-focused at the time, I also made a decision to go completely into science. I had excelled at that in high school also, and so that’s how I’ve built my career. But I’m trying to come back to it now.
MK: You mentioned watercolours as being your first love. Did acrylics come in through the high school? Or was that something that you started when you came back to art?
EC: Kind of wasn’t happening in high school, I was pretty terrible at it back then. We have some pretty atrocious acrylics paintings that hang on the wall in our old house, just as a reminder of how far things can come. I would consider myself primarily to be an oil painter now, and it’s just using that full-body paint and playing with colour, and being able to represent your subject matter. I find that I only paint the things that I care about; my family, our dogs who are our family, these scenes from the past that I want to meditate on and capture this moment in time forever; I’m painting it and studying it, and I just feel like there’s so much caring and love there. But when I use oil paints to express myself, I feel like that’s when I’m doing my subject the most justice.
MK: Is there an exactness to oil painting? Because I think of colour and I do think of them having softer edges and a muted or mixed colour pallet.
EC: Yeah, I think I’m just really at the crossroads of… you know, I mentioned pursuing science as a career, and research and healthcare, and there’s an exactness to my personality, and really an enjoyment of the rules in a way, that I find works really well for me with oil paints and realism, and I can take my time and plot out what I’m going to do, and make plans. In watercolour, you have happy accidents and things moving across the paper and things are happening, and sometimes it’s all just too fast. I’m blown away by the work of the most talented watercolour painters, and I’d like to think that the style I’ve created for myself within watercolour does myself a bit of justice. But certainly, there’s always room to grow.
MK: So this residency is going to be an interesting challenge for you, to return to that.
EC: Yeah, it’s definitely an interesting challenge for me. But y’know, watercolour is always something I’ve kept in my back pockets. I’ve always had a pallet of watercolour paints in my studio, I often will turn out a watercolour painting almost as a break from oil painting, and so even over the last year, I’ve had a pretty steady stream of watercolour paintings. Like pen-and-ink watercolour scenes that I want to portray.
MK: So this isn’t like you suddenly have to drop yourself and do another crash course?
EC: No, absolutely not (laughs). Since we moved here, my very accommodating and kind mother-in-law, we’re living with my in-laws right now, she’s basically allowed me to set up my watercolour studio in the dining room, and I’m just thinking about it now. It’s there right now, where she’d probably like to be able to organize some of her stuff. But again, she’s been very kind to me in that way.
MK: Well that’s nice to have some generous people that understand an artist’s life. So have you ever done a public residency like this before?
EC: I have never done a public residency like this before, and I am so grateful for this opportunity. My husband’s from Fredericton originally, and so I’ve been coming back with him to visit the city for nearly twenty years, and every time we visited, especially lately in the past few years where I’ve been getting back to my art, I’ve been very aware of what an artistic town Fredericton is, in a way that I have not experienced in other cities, including where we had just lived in Ontario. It seemed so difficult to even just get into the arts scene at all, and since arriving here, I feel like if you want to put yourself out there, if you want to apply for things, if you want to get involved, there’s really nothing holding you back to be able to do that. And there are so many opportunities to apply to. This is my first time doing a residency like this, but I could not be more thrilled. That’s why I may not have all of my stuff here with me, but I will move Heaven and Earth to make this work and make it an amazing experience.
MK: What do you think it’s going to be like to have the public wandering in and inevitably asking you questions about your work?
EC: I really don’t know what to expect about that. I think it will just be really neat to talk to people, and I’m looking to interact with the public a little more too. Last summer I saw the Artists in Residency program when we were visiting the Barracks, and I just thought it was the coolest thing. So I hope people will feel free to stop by, stop me doing what I’m doing, I’m really looking forward to it. I want to say hello to people and talk about my work, talk about them.
MK: Will it be weird to have people see the unfinished works or the works in progress for you?
EC: Yes (laughs). You know, mistakes happen, I think you just have to own it. But for the most part, I think that next week, doing the residency is more about the process. Being there, to get to spend this time painting, I’ve never had that happen before. So mostly I’m looking at that as a positive. I don’t think that’s something to be nervous about at all.
MK: Well you’re definitely excited, I’m glad for that too. Now, you’ve mentioned that your subject matters, you tend to be most thrilled by capturing memories. What do you want to capture next week? Have you plotted out the things you’d like to paint?
EC: Yep, this year’s theme for the residency is “Trees”; trees in and around Fredericton and the area. I have so many memories of visiting Fredericton over the years. I have a list of places that I’ve gone to for my references. A particular place that has a lot of significance for me is actually at the University of New Brunswick. I think it is one of, if not the most beautiful university campuses I’ve been on, and now I’m so thrilled that I get to work here as well, and see this every single day. There’s so many beautiful spots here where the trees can take centre stage, and I think that Fredericton is so unique in that there are so many old-growth trees here that really tell the story of the location that they’re in. They continue to exist, and these buildings have popped up around them. But what I also like to infuse in my own works are kind of quirky little… you know, a little dog’s head in the corner was something in the reference photo, for instance. Like how can I put that in without disturbing the overall composition? By a little something something that infuses it with my personality, and my situation.
MK: One of the ironies about this campus… I agree it’s very beautiful here, and I’ve been to a number of campuses and it holds very well. But one of the ironies is that it’s most beautiful, unfortunately, when the students are away during the summer time.
EC: That’s absolutely true (laughs). The view down the hill right now, on a beautiful sunny day, is absolutely amazing. While the students are here, I think it’s probably winter most of the time.
MK: You said you’re working from reference photos?
EC: Yes, my work is grounded in reality, and I don’t want to come off as being boring, but it’s very important to me that if I’m painting a particular building, especially if it’s a landmark in Fredericton, that I get it right, for the most part. Once I have it right, I can take my liberties with how I execute that, I think that my style is a bit fanciful and loose when I’m working with watercolour, but I want for someone to take a look at one of my paintings and say “That’s Odell Park, that’s the Barracks, that’s Queen Street, I know exactly where that is, and it means something to me, and I know the artist painted that with love.” Because it means something to me too.
MK: You mentioned realism being one of the features of your style and also a bit of whimsy. How would you put that together? Often those are opposite concerns, right?
EC: Yes. For me, when I’m representing anything in the world around me, it’s important that the dimensions are there, that it looks like it’s supposed to, and then taking liberties with how I fill those lines in. If I have my pen lines, then just painting loose with watercolour, blending colours, maybe taking some liberty with the colours that I choose, but that certainly if someone is standing in front of it, they’ll say “Yeah, I remember that, and I love the way that looks.” Because that’s exactly how I would feel about that too. It makes them feel a certain way about that spot.
MK: Yeah, you mentioned nostalgia as being one of the things you’re going for.
EC: Yeah, nostalgia is just a really big thing in my life. I don’t see any point in painting something that doesn’t mean something to me, and I think as I get older and things change, and they’re never going to be the same again, and you realize that at different moments in your life. It’s really important to capture memories permanently. And I think of where I’ve been, and where I am now, and I feel emotional even just talking about it, and that’s how I feel about my art. Sometimes it’ll just be a moment at home, in my own personal work, and I’ll think “I need to take a photo of that really quickly.” And that will become the basis for a favourite painting. Now, for this series, I want to be more accessible to people. But I think about when I walked there, my husband was working in a lab at UNB, and I went to visit that exact building; it’s so beautiful now. It does get translated onto the paper when you’re painting.
MK: One of the interesting things about Fredericton that I’ve seen is how you start to refer to finding something, as in “It’s the old (this building)” or “It’s right beside where (that building) used to be.” Which is a terrible direction, but a very nostalgic sort of direction.
EC: I’m so impressed by the pride that Frederictonians have in Fredericton, and that they remember those details. For example, i know that there are some plans underway for revitalization of the Garrison. I hope I’m getting that right, it’s kind of like the outsider trying desperately to be an insider here. Just the passion that people feel about that and being around the table with my in-laws and family here and hearing that discussed with so much passion. But that is how people reference directions here, and things here, and I feel there’s a real move to keep the things in the community that you love. And I think that’s why Fredericton is so beautiful. I would rather be in this city, really, rather than anywhere else. Sometimes I think too, as someone who’s come here, because I really want to be here with my husband and to be closer to his family here, every day when I’m walking on campus here at UNB and I look down over the city, I still think that it’s just awesome that I get to be here now.
MK: I love paintings that illustrate these moments in time and places, because like I said, things will change in this city, and suddenly seeing old photographs of the city, how it used to be, is amazing. And now I’m getting to that age where I’ve been here long enough that the old photographs are ones that I took.
EC: Absolutely, and some people will even caution me and they’ll say “you’re not getting that old, what do you know?” But I think, no, I have photographs, and things are different. And time goes so quickly. I’m a really emotional person, but it makes me feel so sentimental, and that actually is the essence of what I want to capture in my artwork.
MK: Well, it’s been a delight talking to you. I’ve been talking to Eva Christensen who is one of the artists in residence who will be starting…
EC: It will be the 24th of June, 24th to the 30th in the Barracks at the Artists in Residence casemate down there.
MK: So look for her doing her watercolours and go ahead and ask her questions, she’s ready for it.
EC: Yes please, I’m ready for you.
MK: Thanks so much for joining me.
EC: Thank you.
Listen to the full interview here.
Charlotte Simmons, FAA Summer Events Coordinator 2019