Renowned fantasy artist James C. Christensen passed away Jan. 8 after a long battle with cancer. He was 74. Born Sept. 26, 1942, in Culver City, California, Christensen studied at UCLA and BYU where he later earned his MFA and taught from 1976-1997.
Artist and BYU Professor Joseph Ostraff says of his friend, “Jim was an amazing person. He filled any room with energy. He was a truly talented artist and an exceptional friend. I learned so much from him as my teacher and later as a colleague. Some of the greatest things he did for others only a few will ever know. “
And on social media, Sundance artist Kent Christensen writes, “The passing of my friend and mentor James Christensen has rekindled fond memories of his positivity and enthusiasm in the classroom and on study abroad where, with his encouragement and because of his example I made a commitment at age 24 to pursue a life in art. I drew Jim on May 15th 1981 the way I always think of him: sketching curbside in some European city. That day it was Segovia. Those weeks spent with him changed my life.”
Christensen’s work took off when he became associated with the Greenwich Workshop Press. They published several books of his work, including the popular 1994 The Art of James Christensen: A Journey of the Imagination, with illustrations culled from 20 years of his journals.
Christensen preferred to be called an artist who paints the fantastic. “I want to stimulate our natural curiosity and encourage viewers to do some of the imaginative work. When people participate, I see that little light go on in their eyes. That’s when I know I’ve succeeded not just in pleasing my own eye, but in connecting with other minds, other imaginations,” he wrote.
Also well-known as a Mormon artist, he painted murals for the Provo City Center Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Gallery owner and arts activist Diane P. Stewart recalls Christensen as a true gentleman. “He participated in my Art in the Desert party at my home in Palm Springs a few years back and took the Purchase Award,” she says. “He was kind, funny and a mentor to many artists. His execution of fantasy art was unparalleled, and all his pieces held symbolic meaning. A real loss for Utah and beyond,” she states.
When he was one of the art directors for Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, sculptor Frank McEntire asked Christensen if they could feature his work “and he graciously agreed. His drawings were so popular that we were again able to publish him a few years later, though we rarely featured the same artist more than once. Needless to say, I was as impressed with Jim as with his paintings and drawings. His impact on Utah art, and art of the fantastic genre on the national scene, cannot be underestimated. His reputation as a generous, fun-loving, and kind soul is well-founded.”
Artists Cassandra Barney and Emily McPhie, with whom he shared a 2014 show at the Springville Museum of Art, are among the five children who survive him. Also surviving are a sister, Lorelie Andrus, and his wife, Carole.
A graduate of the University of Utah, Ann Poore is a freelance writer and editor who spent most of her career at The Salt Lake Tribune. She was the 2018 recipient of the Salt Lake City Mayor’s Artist Award in the Literary Arts.