Arts and Entertainment

How much is that heifer in the window?

The Roby King’s a barnyard as painter Cheri Christensen returns for her 10th annual solo summer show this month.

Contrary to everything this exhibit may allude to, the artist, Cheri Christensen, has never really lived on a farm.

She’s always been infatuated by farm animals, even though there were never any pets around the house while she was growing up in Enumclaw. Her grandfather, a rancher, she said, was once voted Cattleman of the Year, however.

Later in life, as an adult, Christensen would accrue a full corral of various cats and dogs, donkeys, sheep and more, but that still seemed more of a residential petting zoo than a real farm, she said.

“No self-respecting farmer would’ve called me a farmer,” she noted with a chuckle, “because I wasn’t making a living at it.”

That didn’t matter much though, Christensen was a rare breed in Enumclaw. She was an artist.

Now, she makes a living painting her beloved beasts of the pasture. Her work is shown and sold in galleries across the country, and after more than a decade at work, she’s at the level where it pays the bills.

And she still gets to play farmer now and then, too.

With her 10th annual solo summer show on Bainbridge, Christensen has made a barnyard of the Roby King. It caught my eye one day last week walking through downtown Bainbridge when I happened upon an orange-and-white-faced heifer cow looking back at me through the Roby King’s gallery window on Winslow Way.

Inside the showroom, Christensen’s exhibit stables quietly grazing cows, abstractly rendered roosters and sunbathing ducks among other two- and four-legged farm animals, all painted in oils, in the artist’s signature Russian Impressionistic-style, infused and set off by sunlight.

Her show will hang through the month, while a reception for the artist is slated for 7 p.m. June 20.

Roby King co-owner Wes King notes Christensen as the gallery’s most famous artist. Co-owner Andrea Roby-King said they often get out-of-towners passing through who recognize and identify Christensen’s exhibits. Each year, the Roby King hosts a solo show for the painter who basically got her start on Winslow Way.

The Roby King was, in fact, one of her very first galleries.

Christensen began her painting career through weekly workshops with Ron Lukas, a protege of Russian master painter Sergei Bongart.

Bongart was an eccentric impressionist painter who escaped his Soviet-fisted, war-torn country and eventually made his way to America and out to Los Angeles in 1954, where he’d rub elbows, make friends and impart his influence on American movie stars like Gene Hackmen and James Cagney — and “half of Hollywood,” Wes King quipped — through his bold art and lavish personality.

The Roby King has got some required reading about the man in the showroom with Christensen’s exhibit.

Both Bongart and Russian Impressionism are probably best known for their colors, rich and dynamic. Similar to the original French Impressionism and later American Impressionism in brush stroke technique and audacity, Russian Impressionism is unique in that it survived behind closed doors, hidden from a disapproving Soviet government.

Christensen found the style through the door of workshops with Ron Lukas — who, incidentally, is now the art director at Dreamworks Studios.

“I knew of myself that I liked to paint and the texture of paint, but I knew I wouldn’t be the detailed, ditsy type,” she said. “I wanted to get a brush and smack it against the canvas and just feel it ... drama, whatever, I needed that to come out.”

As it all came out, in time, Christensen developed her own style revolving around the Russian tradition, rooted in color and drama, but incorporating, in a big way, the element of light.

Along with her animalistic subject nature, Christensen’s work has become well known for her deft use of light, something she’s also been infatuated with throughout her life.

“Maybe because we grew up in the Northwest, we don’t take it for granted,” she said of the sun.

Not surprisingly about eight years ago, Christiensen left the dreary Northwest and moved to the sun-soaked desert of Sante Fe, N.M. But, coming back for a show at the Roby King every summer, she hasn’t forgotten her western Washington roots.

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