Christine Warjone & The Light of Living

Words by Ryan Waterfield 

Christine Warjone is one of those people who reminds me to pay attention to the world around me. A self-taught artist, Warjone divides her life into three chapters—the first was working in the business world and raising her three daughters; the second was meeting and marrying her husband; and the third is the journey she’s on as an artist, a journey she dedicated herself to after struggling with a health scare in 2009. After meeting that particular challenge, she decided to live a more “artful” life. A quick tour of her studio reveals a woman who revels in the small moments that make our lives big. Warjone understands that our work is very much a part of the fabric of who we are and some of her paintings are studies of people at work—musicians and cowboys. But she also paints people at play, enjoying the light of living. There’s also a balance between the public and the private realm in her paintings, like the painting she was commissioned to paint of Astronaut Major Anne McClain, who, among many other accomplishments, served 15 months in Operation Iraqi Freedom, flying more than 800 combat hours on 216 combat missions as pilot-in-command and Air Mission Commander. Currently a candidate in the NASA astronaut-training program, McClain is also a mother. Warjone’s painting captures her in a tender moment when her personal and professional lives merge. About her work, Warjone says, “I’m a fortunate artist, a blessed soul who gets to paint whatever inspires me at the time with wild abandon.” Whether it’s her travels to Africa or her ability to see the beauty in everyday moments, Warjone finds inspiration all around her.

BigLife: You paint cowboys, musicians and their instruments, abstracts, and animals, among other things. How do you decide on your subjects and how does your process and approach change from subject to subject?

Christine Warjone: I am deeply inspired to honor the people I have met in my travels, particularly to Africa. I love painting people or the close-up of a person—the musician series, for example, includes close-ups of the beautiful hands of street musicians practicing their art. Each subject dictates the style of my painting. For example, I’ve painted oversized canvases of donkeys and the brush stroke and paint on the palette knife were strong and provided layers of deep texture. Very heavy-handed, but if you’ve been up close and personal with a donkey then you know they aren’t demure little creatures with a smooth coiffure. When I do children or the hands of musicians then they need to be softer and I will use my fingers to add color to their skin, layering on multiple thin coats of acrylic to get the depth and hopefully the translucency of a person’s skin.

BigLife: What has been your biggest challenge as an artist?

CW: Getting started on a new piece and knowing when I’m finished. Well, that and eyes. Capturing eyes and their depths can be tricky. Knowing when a piece is finished can sometimes be an issue. Some pieces you just know it’s time to quit. Others may sit on an easel for a week or three before I finally add my signature. And I don’t think I am good with landscapes.

BigLife: What has been your greatest surprise or gift because of your choice to pursue art?

CW: The generous people whom I have met—collectors of my art as well as other artists. Especially generous are the artists in this community in the Sun Valley, Idaho, area. My studio is located in the industrial district just north of Ketchum. My neighboring artists have been so supportive and generous with their time and valued advice. Also, I am always surprised at how connected I become with the subjects and the painting. When you spend hundreds of hours with a large commission, for me it is like I have spent time in their lives. I actually become a bit protective of the subjects and possessive of these pieces.

BigLife: What’s the next subject on your radar?

CW: I would love to paint more people in their fields of work. I’d love to do a kitchen series. Professionals working in their environments. I recently finished a commission to paint an astronaut—an awesome honor. I loved that it showed her full-suited, helmeted “self” juxtaposed against her private life with her lovely son. It made me realize that seeing the public persona and the private softer side together could be very impactful for future paintings. I also want to do a few more still-life pieces, which for me are a pop art of vintage or antique vehicles. Tractors, bikes, cars.

BigLife: You do both photography and painting—how are the forms different for you?

CW: I love photography and putting my images on metal panels or on plexiglass panels. With photography, I actually have to discipline myself to look at the big picture versus the close-up of textures, colors, and light. For me, it’s all about the light—whether it’s a painting or a photograph. Without the proper light and shadows, it can be just another snapshot or just a brushstroke on canvas. I love light and the drama it can provide to a two-dimensional medium. So, I guess my answer is I see more similarities than I see differences.

BigLife: What painters or what art do you look to for inspiration?

CW: I love the work of Judith Kindler. Lucky for me, she is also my studio neighbor. Our styles are not even remotely similar, but I love her use of various mediums to tell stories. My best friend who passed away last year from cancer was also a huge inspiration to me. Margaux Humphries Goeltz was very encouraging to me and was a very successful sculptor and oil artist. She gave me the courage to paint big. Her journey and subsequent passing also taught me to be free of self-doubt. And then in the Masters arena, hands-down, it’s John Singer Sargent. Just look at his painting “Corfu Lights and Shadows” and you’ll see how light makes the ordinary extraordinary.