I selfie, therefore I am: A Conversation with Dean Christensen

Dean Christensen is many things; among them, the 24-year-old artist is a modern man, an unashamed visionary, and a self-satirizing, entrepreneurial fashion designer. 

Mastering the millennial art form of the selfie in his social media and on the canvas, Christensen’s work is whimsical yet incredibly considered. Mocking our generation’s inclination toward self-worship, the Kentucky raised artist has cultivated a name for himself with his paintings and his satirical DEANSACE clothing label. As the best in show winner at last year’s Fall Salon Show at Greenpoint Gallery, which awards an artist a solo exhibition at a New York gallery, the emerging artist is indeed making bold strokes right now.

Since meeting Dean for the first time last summer at a very questionable restaurant in Chinatown with our friend Jared, I have been lucky to see the Trestle Gallery resident’s  creative process in action. With an uncanny ability to find the art and adventure in the seemingly most mundane,  Dean Christensen has something truly unique about him. Honored to be featuring his work on Artnology Content, I’d like to introduce everybody to Dean: 

Can you tell me about what you drew you to art?

It’s funny actually, the summer after 8th grade I took a summer art course just so I would know people going into high school.  My instructor was this badass old man Mr. Whitehouse.  He was crazy.  He would go around with yellow paint completely ruining all of the students’ work while they were painting (laughs). He made kids cry and stuff, but he definitely knew his stuff.  I found him hilarious and he was a pivotal mentor of mine.  He uncovered my love of painting.  Also, I’m just a super weird person and art has always provided a sort of escape.

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How would you describe your aesthetic?

The essence of cuteness.

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How has social media inspired or informed your work? Can you tell me about what made you want to paint selfies?

Not surprisingly, the selfies started in pure fun. Me and my friends Max and Jared designed shirts covered in pictures of our own faces because we thought it would be funny and one day my face shirt was my last clean shirt and I wore it to painting class and my teacher started dying laughing. It really took me off guard because she is usually quite poised.  I think it was that moment I knew there was a potential body of work there.  The next day I painted my first ugly selfie.  As the series has progressed it has become a more serious commentary on social media’s effect on our psyche. 

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Having mastered the art of taking a selfie, do you have any advice for out there struggling with the selfie medium?

More chins.

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What’s your favorite social media platform?

Instagram.

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What’s your take on social media’s effects on our generation?

I think we millennials are truly the test generation of how the internet affects our psyche. Social media certainly has its positives and negatives, but just like a drug it is highly addictive not to be taken lightly. The beauty of social media is that it breaks all geographical barriers — which theoretically translates to a much more cultured society.  That being said, it has also created more pressure than ever to meet unrealistic social standards, which has lead to widespread depression.  One quote I read recently was something like, “social media propagates the type of self-questioning that categorizes adolescence.”  So I guess if we’re not careful, it can turn us into a bunch of overgrown babies.

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I remember eating at that questionable restaurant in Chinatown with you and Jared over the summer, and you showing me these incredibly deep critical reviews of your art where it seemed like people were intensely over-analyzing your work… What do you want people to understand about your art?

I really dislike the idea of cutting people off at the knees by defining exactly what my work is about.  It certainly started as a fun, satirical take on Millennial culture, but that was twisted into people thinking I dislike our culture which is certainly not the case.  There are also those who are whole-heartedly convinced that I am actually totally obsessed with myself and on some huge self-fulfilling prophecy. If that were the case I think I’d paint more flattering paintings of myself lolol.  But anyway, I’ve learned that people generally think what they want to think, so my goal with all of my work is to embody and expose the excesses of millennial culture and to let people come to their own conclusions.

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What is it like being a young artist in New York/Brooklyn?

It’s intense.  I’m from Louisville, KY where the art community is super small and being an artist at all in KY is so weird to people. People are far more interested in art here and there is definitely no shortage of opportunity, which is super energizing, but the grind is real. The price of living is so much that you have to be very disciplined about balancing making money with studio time.  But I love it.  The ups and downs.

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I’m a HUGE fan of Deansace. Can you tell me about the inspiration for your clothing line. And do maybe I get free swag for featuring you on my blog?

As you know, DEANSACE™ clothing is easily the world’s greatest clothing line.  Each article of clothing is covered in pictures of my face and priced at $9,999 with a big flamboyant price tag, and at my shows I set up clothed mannequins in a similar format to Versace.  The purpose of the clothing line was just another ridiculous element to reinforce my concept of excessive self worth.  I didn’t plan for it to be much more than an art piece, but I’ve had a few small bulk orders and they’ve sold out in a matter of hours via Snapchat. So now I’m taking it more seriously.  I even got the DEANSACE™ logo tattooed on my body. I also have some DEANSACE™action figures on the way.  And yes, I gotchu on a shirt.

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What helps you feel creative?

Straight up, I love trap music when I paint.  To me, there’s something so therapeutic about just mindlessly vibing out.  Lil Yachty, Young Thug, Travis Scott, Chief Keef, etc.  They put me in a frame of mind of getting out of my head and just feeling myself and creating.  I have so much fun when I paint.

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Going forward, what are your goals as an artist in 2017?

As the new guy in town, I’m currently really focused on proving myself with a killer NYC solo show. 

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Boston, 2016: Deansace poses for a picture with 2 fans (Jared and I) in the pouring rain.

A video produced by Jared Brill/Scuba Moose:

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