Christensen Paints To The Beat Of His Own Drum

Independent/Don Christensen

Nebraska raised musician turned artist Don Christensen is having his third solo show, “Stax and Meters,” at Ille Arts Gallery in Amagansett. The show, now on view through November 12, includes wood panel and oil on paper paintings.

After living in Lower Manhattan for 40 years, Christensen is now nearing a decade of calling Springs home. He has been involved with Ille Arts since its beginning, calling Sara DeLuca, the owner of the gallery, his life partner. “But don’t get the idea that it was nepotism that got me a show there, she only shows what she likes,” he lightheartedly noted.

You used to be a professional musician. What was the “life change” that transitioned you from music to painting?

I had been a touring and recording professional musician for many years, and by the time I was 40, I was exhausted, broke, and sick and tired of being sick and tired. I sought help, cleaned up my act, and one of the good byproducts of all that was that I started painting.

Drumming and painting both require hands-on talent. Describe the similarities and differences between the two forms.

That’s a good observation. I’ve always enjoyed making things and using my hands, and I like the physicality and the dance of drumming and painting. The differences are pretty major though. Making music is participatory and collaborative while painting is solitary, sometimes meditative. Music is so magical. It is this invisible force capable of affecting people emotionally instantly. Painting however, is slower, but paintings can be very moving and stimulating over time. A good painting will be soul nourishing for years.

How has your style progressed over the years?

When I first started painting, I was making the cross paintings though I didn’t call them that at the time. To me it was a convenient and satisfying way to make color combinations, like the stripe paintings that so many artists have made, except one vertical and one horizontal. One day I’m looking at them and it hit me: “OMG I’m making crosses!” Then I started seeing them everywhere. I didn’t realize how prevalent that symbol is in our culture. It is a basic mark. X marks the spot.

The progression is, if there is a progression, is looking for new ways to put colors together in a harmonious or beautifully discordant way and to also satisfy my desire to draw. I really try to keep things intuitive.

Why name the show “Stax and Meters?”

Stax was one of the best record labels ever. The soul music of the 1960s and ’70s is so good. It knocked me out when I was a teenager and it continues to inspire me. I listen to R&B from that period all the time. The Meters were the funkiest band. Their drummer, Zigaboo Modaliste created the most abstract, funky but super groovy beats that drummers, even today, 40 some years later are trying to emulate.

The show is mostly made up of two series of paintings, one that I call “Stacks” and another series that I call “Meters” and for some time now, I’ve been wanting to exhibit some drum kits that I’ve assembled, customized, and painted. Just a little shout out to my favorite band and label.

What song in particular has made an artistic impression on you?

That’s hard to have just one. There are so many. I’d have to say, “Are you Experienced?” by Jimi Hendrix pops into my mind. The first time I heard that, it blew my mind. It opened up whole new possibilities in music and consequently, art.

Who are some artists you admire?

Milton Avery, Hans Hoffman, Henri Matisse, Pierre Bonnard, Ken Noland, Frank Stella, Philip Guston, R. Crumb, Jackson Pollock, Jimi Hendrix, Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, Stuart Davis, Fra Angelico, Giotto, Caravaggio, Morris Louis, Larry Poons, Anthony Caro, David Hockney, Philip Glass, and Sly Stone . . . to name a few.

Visit Ille Arts is located at 171 Main Street in Amagansett. Visit

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