I wasn’t sure how to bring this up, but at a glance Christine Rasmussen’s paintings looked flat. I had been browsing through thumbnails on her online portfolio. The next afternoon I was in her studio with her, in an alcove on the second floor of an industrial building in Glassell Park. On an easel in the light of the window was something new she’s been working on. A few of her works from prior shows hung about the walls. There was that familiar flatness.
At a second look, however, there was more to them. In her simple, straightforward visual angles, the colors are precise and absorbing. And there’s detail in places I didn’t expect; the graining of a wood table in one painting, the texture on a cement wall in another.
“There’s a dreamlike quality to her work. Her paintings have a way of drawing you in, making you wonder what is that? Who came? Who left,” said Linda Vallejo, a Los Angeles-based painter.
“There’s something to me about the mundane,” Christine said. For subject matter, she commonly paints urban everydayness in repose. Doors, apartment structures. Fences and walls. There are an awful lot of walls in her art. They point to another favorite theme of hers.
Rasmussen has moved around a lot. “I was born and raised in Pakistan till I was 14, then lived in California, Connecticut and Vietnam before graduating high school. I’ve spent the last 10 years in Berkeley, Oakland, Austin, Sunnyvale and now Los Angeles, where I plan to stay.” So she’s constantly a newcomer in a city and these paintings come to terms with the repeated feeling of not having learned where you fit in.
“A lot of the work is about boundaries and being on the outside,” she said. “But I’m a little weird. I don’t go back to the places I’ve lived.”
The objects she paints are never icons per se; she doesn’t show any street signs unique to Berkeley, CA, you will not find anything that shows off the unique cowboy-hat stores of Austin, TX, and she has not focused on the unique architecture of Connecticut. You could find her walls, her streets, her apartment buildings in more or less any city in America. And because these objects are universal, it’s easy for a scene in a new city to remind her of a scene in an old.
“When I go to a new city, I find places that remind me of other places I’ve been,” she said. “For example, my painting “Over” is actually of a place in Oakland, but a lot of people think it’s somewhere in LA – I love making that connection across geography.”
And so, emotion shows up in the mundane because of the ease with which one thing reminds us of something we used to do and where we used to do it.
“I purposely flatten stuff a bit. It evokes a dreamlike quality,” she said, answering the question I had been waiting for the right moment to ask.
This dreamlike quality is a distortion, and it parallels the way memories inform, attack, and skew the way we view the here-and-now. Because the nostalgia she paints is often at a remove.
In her art, there’s a fence you’re looking through or a wall you’re looking over, and not only do they overtly impede the view of what’s in focus, but they also layer the scene from the viewer. So that what you’re seeing, for instance, in Nostalgia isn’t just the basketball hoop; it’s the distance from the basketball hoop.
“When you leave a place and go somewhere new, and you come back, a lot of the things you see aren’t the same as the way you remember them,” she said.
In Christine’s work, you can see poignant areas of shadow and very careful divisions of lonely space. These spaces generate a sense of interior self-doubt and self-searching, said Vallejo.
“She has an intense understanding of the secret language of our interior lives,” Vallejo noted.
“Coming to Los Angeles, Christine really hit the ground running,” Zaslove said. In November, Rasmussen presented Flawless, a series of paintings in which womens’ clothing is shown in as though its being worn, except with no body inside. Zaslove bought a print of one of Christine’s works from that set.
“I like the contrast between the background and the dress, and the movement in the dress itself,” Zaslove said.
Shelley Heffler, an artist based in Inglewood, was also impressed with the works in Christine’s Flawless series. “The persona of the work is very intimate, and I like her strong color choices,” Heffler said.
Christine, an emerging artist, majored in Art Practice and Peace & Conflict Studies at UC Berkeley. She and her work will be at “L.A. Interiors & Exteriors,” an art show at Pilates & Arts in Echo Park, on March 18.