A stretched driveway in Long Beach, California leads to the multistory home of artist Dorte Christjansen. She dressed in rainbow long sleeves like the many paintings that line her garage-turned studio – mandalas and aluminum prints depict scenery inspired by the Colorado Lagoon next door.
Though Christjansen is a retired professor that used to teach watercolor and illustration classes at Cal State Fullerton, she’s still active in her community with involvement in organizations like the Long Beach Creative Group and showcases her work at local galleries.
The 75-year-old artist was first influenced to become an artist from her grandfather, Rasmus. Surrounded by his paintings, illustrations and drawings as a child, she was in awe of his ink drawing of an oak tree.
“He died before I was born, but I would look at his paintings and try copying some of them,” Christjansen said.
Her father was a silversmith back in Copenhagen, Denmark, but his true dream was to become a pilot. Unfortunately, while flying solo to qualify as an aviator, he was involved in an accident and plunged into the Hjarbæk Fjord, causing him to lose an eye, cutting his days as a silversmith and pilot short.
Christjansen’s family immigrated from Denmark to Kamloops, a city near Vancouver, British Columbia, and went to Seattle before finally settling down in Southern California with her mother. There, she received both her Bachelor of Arts in drawing and painting in 1965 and, in 1972, her Master of Fine Arts in illustration at Cal State Long Beach.
Her experiences teaching at Santiago High School in Garden Grove and CSUF led her to become an advocate for early exposure of the arts to young people.
She taught for a brief period at Long Beach before coming to CSUF in 1989 as the area coordinator for art education, while teaching courses in watercolor and illustration.
There, she met her colleague and friend Lawrence Yun, a CSUF professor that teaches water and descriptory classes. They shared an office for almost 15 years and got to know each other on a more personal level.
“We do similar mediums. We’re both watercolor instructors, so she has a lot of things I admire.” Yun said.
Watercolor and batik, a process where one uses wax to prevent certain patterns from being dyed, are her mediums of choice. With both forms, she would usually paint colorful and vibrant patterns or turn to nature, landscapes or an occasional cat that would creep in while she’s working.
Both mediums can actually be used for whatever subject she chooses, but the processes are polar opposites when it comes to technique and execution, Christjansen said.
Much like her art, Christjansen is inviting and welcoming. Eve Lunt, Christjansen’s stepdaughter from her late husband, Stephen Werlick, said when she was growing up, all her friends would always want to visit Christjansen’s house because she made everyone feel welcomed.
“It’s never just a transaction with Dorte. She always makes it personal and finds out a little bit of the person she’s talking with. It’s not as much artistic as just listening to people and seeing the beauty in everyone,” Lunt said.
Her friendliness and creative mind got her to embrace the art scene and community in Long Beach. With the Long Beach Creative Group, artists around the city gather from Facebook to create a place of expression and engage with one another through art exhibits and events in the city.
Christjansen’s paintings, inspired by the Colorado Lagoon and other works from the Long Beach Creative Group, will be on display at Portfolio, a coffeehouse in Long Beach, during a monthly event called “Fourth Fridays.” At the event, businesses in the Retro Row district of 4th Street extend their store hours, have food and drink specials, discounted merchandise, pop-up shops, live music and art shows.
Christjansen also plans to display her art at the Expo Arts Center in Bixby Knolls in Long Beach in the beginning of March.
From her grandfather’s inspiration to her mother’s independent spirit, Christjansen continues her family’s legacy of creating art while simultaneously helping out the local art community and influencing others with her unique way of looking at the beauty in life.