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Carl Christensen

Carl Christensen

This Guest Book will remain online until 9/2/2014 courtesy of Karen Christensen Gray.
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July 11, 2014
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August 23, 2013
Carl was one of the folks who wandered into East West Leather in its early days and became an essential, elemental part of its unique fabric. His quirkiness attracted me because he was so different from any other guys I knew in the City at that time. On the street outside his and Sarah's apartment the night of the afore mentioned fire, I found him distraught that he'd been unable to do more to protect Sarah's possessions. My secure back porch was the perfect place to dry and air whatever was salvageable. It was easy to help and after that night I knew Carl counted me as a real friend.

In humorous response to my little postcard biz post-East West, Carl had a couple of his drawings made into postcards and sent them to me with the message "Look out Carioca, You've got competition!"
In recent years he sent me copies of painstaking video portraits of the City's glass towers and the ebb and flow of workers in downtown S.F. I would critique them and he in turn would critique collages I reduced to postcard size and sent him with regularity. I always looked forward to these exchanges as they were witty and penetrating. When I told him that one of his videos with a strobe could trigger a seizure on my part, he was genuinely concerned and promised not to send others with that feature.

As another friend said, a review by Carl was as on-point as one could ever ask. I never needed to "show" my work with Carl as my reviewer. Goodbye good friend.
August 19, 2013
Last night I watched some of Carl's fascinating 2008 videos. Most of them are time-lapsed, mesmerizing abstracts set to electronic music: vibrant colors shimmer, pulsate, flow, glow, and sometimes become kaleidoscopic. The camera, in close-up shots, is pointed straight down to a curbside puddle or, in long shots, straight up at a skyscraper. Sometimes the puddle reflects the skyscraper, sometimes the skyscraper windows reflect clouds, making the buildings appear to be transparent and alive. The sky itself seems to be alive. Everything is in motion. A beautiful flag backlit with sunlight fills the screen, rolling and folding in on itself sensuously in the breeze. These images repeat but the colors, their saturation, and the movement or angles change with each different puddle, cloud or skyscraper. Muting Carl's mind-numbing soundtrack, I felt no compunction—Carl knew it drove me nuts. He admitted that he couldn't always find the right sounds.

In contrast, other videos are slow tempo: at the Marin Headlands, his camera's telescopic lens watches a deer, a coyote, a hawk, waves, grass waving in the breeze, the Golden Gate luminescent blue with lights sparkling in a blackened city. Sunrises on hillsides or fog advancing and retreating are time-lapsed and sped up so that slopes swathed in shadow become golden. Acoustic flute or fiddle music this time—much more tolerable.

As I watched, I thought about his lifetime as an artist and my thoughts went back 50 years to the art building at Michigan State University, where Carl and I, both art students, would sometimes sit in one of the painting rooms to discuss our work and spent many hours hanging out at the MSU Union Grill, where, as a freshman, Carl had very quickly become one of the regular “grillhounds” returning from previous years. Flashing forward to SF in the ‘70s, I thought of the times at Specs' bar in North Beach and my visit to his Bluxome Street studio, where I enjoyed viewing his transition from student art to independent work. After his stroke in 2007 he took up videography so that he could continue making art in spite of losing control of the hand he used to draw and paint.

I admire Carl for making art throughout his life. He was a remarkable man, an eccentric with a brilliant mind and talent, full of ideas and knowledge, living his life on his own terms. In college he was known as “Good Carl.” He was so much fun--hilarious, witty, and a great punster. His laugh was infectious. His opinions were always frank, whether praising or criticizing. His film critiques could have given Roger Ebert a run for his money, and he loved to discuss literature, having an extensive reading background. He also loved to immerse himself in nature by hiking and camping on beaches in northern California. He was as sharp in 2013 as he was in 1963 (although he might have disputed that assertion).
August 16, 2013
I first met Carl when I moved into the Bryant Street railroad flat, to be with my new boyfriend (Doug Jennings), who shared the flat with Carl. Carl was a wonderful roommate, low-key and amusing, and we were sorry when he moved out. Of course, Doug and I could always rendezvous with Carl at Specs, provided we went during Carl's regular "hours" at that famous North Beach tavern.

I recall that Carl loved "early" reggae, and went frequently to some obscure record store (remember those?) to get the latest music from Kingston. He was into Bob Marley and the Wailers 'way before they caught on with the mainstream. In Carl's honor, I have been playing NATTY DREAD; he also liked BURNIN'. "Get up, stand up!"

We were thrilled when Carl agreed to do our wedding invitation, which we still have. It is a good example of Carl's cartooning skill and his gentle humor. He often reminded me of Hal Halbrook's portrayal of Mark Twain.

Alison Jennings
August 16, 2013
When Carl and I shared a flat on Bryant Street in San Francisco, I enjoyed his sense of humor, his artwork, and the friends he had over. He was a great roommate, and we had some wild parties there that were always announced with one of Carl's signature invitations. I wish I had saved those invitations now - if anyone has copies stored away, let me know - I would love to see them again!

Our parties were crowded affairs. Carl taught me how to attract partygoers by exaggerating the party attractions (like announcing "Live Music!", even if that was only handling out percussive instruments to the partygoers and letting them make their own music) and providing free eats and drinks.

Our flat was down the street from the old Hamm's Brewery. The Brewery had an advertising sign on its roof, a huge round beer glass with neon lights that lit up sequentially to show the glass filling up with beer. Then, at the top, it would form a foam head, and electric foam would spill down the outside of the glass. When Carl told folks how to find our flat, he would say, "Just look for that big beer glass in the sky."

The beer glass is gone now. So is Carl. I will miss him deeply. If there is an afterlife, I hope to see him again. I will know how to find him - I will "just look for that big beer glass in the sky".

Douglas Jennings
August 15, 2013
Carl and I were together only two years, but during that time, we had some great adventures and misadventures. More than once, we hitchhiked up the coast trying to make to Oregon. Never got there. Even on the road, Carl wore his signature suit jacket (which he called his "soot," as in “this furnace is choked with soot”), sweater vest, and tie. And even camping out on the beach, he always carefully draped that tie over the nearest flat rock so that the next day it would be wrinkle free, and he could cut a snazzy figure sticking out his thumb by the roadside.

In the city, when we weren't working at the factory, we'd go to Specs to drink Irish coffee and play chess. Or we'd dash on the spur of the moment to Clown Alley in the middle of the afternoon when Carl was seized by a sudden, irresistible craving for a big juicy burger. Or go to matinees; we saw “The Godfather” in its first run at one of the old movie theaters on Polk Street, and I'll never forget how it bowled us both over; we could hardly even talk after we emerged from the darkness. Other times, we'd just hang out with our East-West buddies.

Probably the most dramatic thing that ever happened to us was the Christmas Eve fire that destroyed our apartment. Carl had moved into my tiny, one-room place with black walls, over a health food store at 19th and Castro when the neighborhood was just going into transition. I was away on a family-mandated trip to Bermuda, not for fun, but to visit ancient relatives, and Carl stayed in SF. When the fire started, it was the wee hours of the morning, and he barely got out before the flames consumed the building. After the fire was out, he made heroic efforts to rescue our stuff, mostly mine actually, and with the help of a fellow EW friend, Carrie, schlepped it across the street, where she made room to stash the smelly heaps of clothes and books in her apartment. Soon after, I got Carl's letter announcing the upsetting news. He told me about the fire and all the damage in the most careful and delicate way, trying not to shock me and urging me to stay till it was time for my scheduled trip home. Of course, in a dither, I left right away, as fast as I could – and I remember what a joy it was to see him (unscathed) waiting to pick me up at the airport (those were the days when anyone could go right to the gate to greet arriving passengers).

Carl was one of the most interesting people I ever met. He was tremendously intelligent, quirky, talented, and really, really funny. He was intolerant of whatever he deemed phony or fraudulent and had a sort of X-Ray vision that enabled him to detect any sort of pretension or phoniness a mile away. Along with that, he was unfailingly honest with himself and everyone else. Yet no one had a gentler spirit. He was all bark and no bite, however gruff he seemed on the surface.

He may not have won the fame and admiration that someone with his gifts deserved. But he made art anyway, for its own sake, and what inventive, witty, and imaginative work it was!

I never knew anyone who was so uncompromisingly himself, and so intensely alive, as Carl was. It's hard to believe that he's gone.

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