Seeing What’s Overlooked: The Art of Peer Christensen

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Peer Christensen, whose donated painting of Del Crary Park is the first prize in the Singers’ February 2020 raffle, creates art that shows us the often unnoticed aesthetic pleasures of everyday life.  And the picture Peer painted especially for the Peterborough Singers’ raffle, to be held at the upcoming Canadian Legends concert, is no exception. It depicts an early morning in the park. The light shimmers through the trees, dappling the grass, and Little Lake is luminous in the background. The average person, the one out jogging through the park or walking the dog, might say, “It’s going to be a lovely day”—and move on. But Peer sees a picture.

“I’m engaged by scenes that most people wouldn’t normally stop and take notice of,” Peer explains. “And this scene of Del Crary Park is one I go back to many times.” Having lived in downtown Peterborough for thirteen years, Peer has seen the park in all weather. “Snow, mist, sweltering heat, or rain, I’d walk the park with Rufus,” the family’s black poodle. “So when I thought about what to paint for the Singers, I selected a scene that I love and that would be recognized by people in the community.”

Peer is a long-time supporter of the Peterborough Singers, and, indeed, of art and culture in the community. He and his wife Lori, who together form Christensen Fine Art, have donated major works to Hospice Peterborough, the Peterborough Regional Health Centre, the Art Gallery of Peterborough, and the Peterborough Singers.  The choir has used these donated paintings at its gala auctions, held to celebrate the Singers’ fifteenth and twentieth anniversaries.  “One was of Leicester Square,” Peer recalls.  “I find inspiration in travel, too,” he laughs, and then describes the family’s recent trip to Cuba.

At their previous gallery, which was about a block from where the choir practises, Peer and Lori hosted “after-rehearsal get-togethers,” at which Singers and friends viewed art, had refreshments, and won door prizes. Often, these prizes included (you guessed it!) a painting of Peer’s donated for the occasion. (On a side note, this author won a beautiful Peer original of a forest path through melting snow at such an event. A dream come true!) And Christensen Fine Art regularly contributes to the February raffle, for example, by donating gift certificates for framing or small paintings. This year, the donated painting—Morning Light, Little Lake, Peterborough—is a large canvas (24 x 36), priced at thousands of dollars.

Why this level of support? “I’ve never been as big a fan of choral music as I am now,” Peer responds, “and that has certainly come about from, well, listening to Lori sing.” He is even playing “Neapolitan Baroque music” in the studio as he paints, and one gets the sense that he attributes his developing taste in music at least in part to his family’s engagement with the Peterborough Singers. “Half of my family has been in the choir at one time or another, and Lori is a founding member,” he explains. “So,” he jokes, “when it comes to supporting the Singers, there is a certain pressure!”

Putting that aside, however, Peer focuses on the benefits of backing excellence in art and culture. And one of those benefits is experiencing the immediacy and exuberance of performed music. “I will be sitting in certain of the Singers’ concerts and pinch myself,” he says. “Can this brilliant music be happening in Peterborough?”

Peer in his studio working on the “Algoma” series, February 2020 (photo by Alan Wotherspoon)

 

Peer doesn’t neglect the more prosaic sorts of aid to the arts either. He has served on PACAC, the Peterborough Architectural Conservation Advisory Committee, for two terms, and on the City of Peterborough Arts, Culture and Heritage Advisory Committee and the Peterborough Regional Health Centre Art Committee. He does all this while maintaining an “ambitious” exhibition schedule. “Last year I was in seven exhibitions, there is a big exhibit coming up next month, and I’ll probably participate in at least five more in 2020,” he explains.

Christensen Fine Art, 10 Lisburn (photo by Alan Wotherspoon)

Apart from the scheduled exhibits, what exciting new things are on the horizon for Christensen Fine Art? “Settling in to our home and studio on Lisburn,” Peer responds. “We’ve stepped away from the retail store-front model after 33 years,” he explains, adding with tongue in cheek that, although it was a “smooth move,” he and Lori “are never doing renovation nor construction ever again in our lives.”  (“Make a note of that,” he laughs.)

But the spacious studio at 10 Lisburn is very versatile. He has room to accommodate his framing and canvas production operation, as well as to teach, if he decides to do so in the future. “And I still continue to do framing for select customers,” Peer notes.

Christensen Fine Art also continues to hold short exhibits. “This lovely studio we’re going to be using for other artists’ shows as well,” Peer says, motioning around him.  “We did an open house with Anne Renouf this past Christmas, and we’re going to be doing something with Marilyn Goslin in the spring.” These will be two- or three-day shows, a weekend perhaps: “No more three-week runs,” Peer promises himself. He wants the time for his own painting.

And that leads to probably one of the most exciting initiatives Peer is currently undertaking: finishing a series of paintings documenting a recent trip he and Lori took on the Algoma Harvester, an Equinox Class Great Lakes freighter that is 740 feet long. “The Algoma Harvester carries grain for Algoma Central from Thunder Bay to the St. Lawrence,” Peer tells me. “And then it returns with iron ore . . . we boarded at the Welland Canal and travelled to Sept-Îles. What an experience!”

This trip gave Peer the opportunity and time to follow his muse: the art to be found in scenes of daily life. “Industrial landscapes, flowers, leaves, railways, shipping, sand, the sights glimpsed on a walk—I like to see and present something that people would most likely ignore,” Peer explains. “I can see a composition very quickly; something will just twig in my brain—I guess that’s just the way I’m wired—and I’ll know . . . That will be a great painting.”  Getting excited, he pops up from his chair and retrieves a small painting that he has just finished: Windy November Day, Denmark, 2019. “Not every day is sunny,” he quips. “We were hiking on a rainy, windy fall afternoon, and I saw this tree I had to paint.” Gesturing to the painting he continues, “The leaves are blowing off, the sky is . . . it’s a lowering sky that’s obviously moving across the canvas in different shades of grey. Not a lovely day, but again, there is a certain level of engagement, and a certain beauty can be found even in what most people would avoid by staying indoors.”

Windy November Day, Denmark, 2019 (12 x 24)
Island Sentry, Steveston, BC

“One of my teachers once told me that you should be able to take small sections of an excellent painting and see art there, however abstract,” Peer explains, pointing to one of my favourite paintings of his and sectioning off parts by framing them with his fingers. This painting, too, is of an ordinary scene, two boats in a harbour (Island Sentry, Steveston, BC, 36 x 24). But there is something about the lines of the rigging. Another harbour scene is even more atmospheric, a couple of wooden-hulled large antique ships. “I wanted to depict what a foggy morning on the West Coast looks like . . . light is defused, and shapes and certain details just become diminished. So the challenge was trying to capture that sense of atmosphere and temperature and lighting.” Again, with Morning Fog, Peer has created a compelling but not necessarily a comfortable painting. But that is his genius and a good part of his motivation.

 

 

 

For me, it’s about presenting something that is not inherently a beautiful scene or a pleasant scene, necessarily. But then, when I present it as a painting, it takes on a certain aesthetic. There can be beauty found there, whether it’s the way the light works, or the shapes…. I find that the viewer is often engaged by that careful look, and I find it particularly pleasing when that happens—there’s a connection.

The Peterborough Singers is honoured to have as its supporter such a talent.

Morning Fog, Steveston, BC

 

MORE INFORMATION ABOUT THE RAFFLE

The Draw: At the Singers’ concert Canadian Legends, February 29, 2020, Calvary Church

1st Prize: Morning Light, Little Lake, Peterborough, 2020 (24 x 36) by Peer Christensen, valued at $2000

2nd Prize: Gift basket from local merchants, valued at $1000

Tickets:  Available from any choir member or the PS Office (call 705-745-1820 or email singers@peterboroughsingers.com)