Trek Lexington in conversation with Christian Fagerlund

  1.  Tell us a bit about yourself, both as a person and as an artist. Where did you grow up, and what is your artistic background? Do you remember the moment you realized that you will spend your life as an artist?

I grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan and moved to California after high school. I don’t recall a specific moment where I knew I wanted to be an artist, but honestly I can’t remember a time before drawing. I always loved doing it. It started with creating elaborate underwater battle scenes, and obsessively drawing Garfield and Transformers with my friends in elementary. I spent many summers at my grandparents’ home in Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, where I watched and drew local bird species. This was my first clear inclination towards naturalism—interacting with and observing a subject directly. Cartoons led to comics, which were my “gateway drug” into figurative art. Many years later, while talking with a group of fellow graduate students at the New York Academy of Art, I realized the majority of us had grown up using “How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way”, a book that beautifully combined the narrative drama of comic book illustration with fundamentals of figurative art (proportion, gesture, anatomy/figure structure, facial features/expression, composition). I knew I had found my crowd.

Drawing was always there and, fortunately, I had parents that supported and encouraged it. My father, as well two of my brothers are architects. There seems to be a sensibility that was passed down, an appreciation for precision, mechanics, and structure that manifested in different ways for each of us. For me, it was definitely the figure that brought this appreciation into focus. I began to really love painting as a medium during my undergraduate studies at UC-Santa Barbara, and it has taken years of exploration to begin to feel proficient and intuitive with the medium. That history of drawing became the foundation for my painting, and color has been my focus ever since.

My work comes from a fundamental appreciation of naturalism—from a deep love for light, color, form, and person—rather than from a place of abstract thought, symbolism, or metaphor. I paint the moments that I see, am drawn or react to, and find evocative.

  2.  Who are the artists, either past or present, who have influenced you the most?

Direct artistic “influences” are hard for me to pinpoint—maybe I’ll be able to see that more clearly later in my life. But there were definitely a few amazing instructors in my graduate education that deeply influenced my art and practice. They helped me learn to see in new ways, to hone my craft, understand human anatomy, and pushed me to recognize and trust my natural instincts. Of course, art-making is a process and an exploration, so I’m still figuring all of those things out. It’s an endless endeavor, and I’m lucky to spend my days doing it.

There are too many artists to list (both contemporary and historical) whom I find inspiring. Much of my painting involves working at a very small scale. I definitely relate to the work of Holbein the Younger (e.g. Portrait of Jane Small), along with Dina Brodsky, Robert Bauer, and Ivan Franco Fraga. More recently I’ve been admiring Frank Reaugh’s Texas landscapes. Others would include Antonio Lopez Garcia, Euan Uglow, Lucian Freud, and Andrew Wyeth. Christian Seybold’s portraits just kill me – the technical facility, along with the life presence he creates in paint are just magical.

  3.  What are some of the highlights of your artistic career so far? Are there any low points that you wouldn’t mind sharing, and what helped you get through those?

Obvious highlights would be the various solo shows that I’ve had since graduate school. It’s a wonderful feeling to share your work with others after working solitarily in the studio for such long periods.

Another highpoint occurred during my residency in Northern France in 2005. It was my first time doing landscape painting. After years of dealing with the figure, it was refreshing to work with a new subject and process—it was liberating, and a completely different way of interacting with your subject. It has continued to be a part of my regular practice ever since.

And, most recently, a highlight was being hired as Senior Lecturer of Figure Drawing at UNT (University of North Texas) in 2014. I had spent the previous ten years teaching at the community college level, in post-baccalaureate programs, ateliers, and doing private workshops.

The biggest challenges have centered around trying to balance my two professions: artist and educator. They are very distinct and separate practices, yet fully related to one another. It often feels like if you’re doing one well, you’re neglecting the other. Keeping up a solid disciplined studio practice was especially crucial (and difficult) during those years of adjunct teaching. It would have been much easier to just focus and excel at one, especially because each is so fulfilling on its own. But that isn’t an option because I really love doing both and, therefore, have to find ways to make it work. Fortunately my position at UNT allows and supports my teaching and creative research.

  4.  Can you talk a bit about the body of work currently in your studio? What is the inspiration behind it, and where do you see it going?

I keep a folder on my desktop that is a bank of inspiring images that I’ve gathered over the years. I was looking through them and started to notice a reoccurrence of figurative paintings of the back—by Andrew Wyeth, William Merritt Chase, Ingres, Jules Joseph Lefebvre, etc. I was drawn to how beautifully these artists captured each individual from that view—through subtle gesture and specificity of form/detail. So about a year ago, I set out to do a series of back portraits. I chose to keep a set of consistent guidelines throughout the portraits to retain a visual cohesion to the whole, while highlighting the differences between each sitter. It is a series of 8×10 inch paintings, and all at the same scale. I ask the sitter to bring their favorite blanket/piece of fabric to sit on. Working from photographs, I look for the moments when things settle—the sitter stops “posing,” forgets that they’re being photographed, allowing their body and gesture to relax into a more natural state. I’m about halfway done with the series, and I’m sure I’ll move on to something very different afterwards. That’s generally how I work: if I’ve been working on small-scale oils for a while, I’ll follow with large-scale drawings, and then move onto miniature landscape pastels, and so on. I am thinking about a group of nocturnals, which would be a nice shift away from these back portraits that are bright, unambiguous, and hyper-described.

  5.  What is the best place to see your work? Do you have any exhibitions coming up in the near future?

I currently have a group of drawings and paintings showing at Winfield Gallery in Carmel, CA, and will have work in Abend Gallery’s “Palette” show in June in Denver, CO. The drawings and paintings that I’m currently working on are in preparation for a two-person show at Liliana Bloch Gallery in Dallas, TX scheduled for May 2018.

Christian Fagerlund’s website

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