Waylon Christner: a colorful character
If you’ve ever seen one of Waylon Christner’s paintings — and you probably have — chances are you were struck by two things: its vibrant colors and its sheer size. Christner is not one for small-scale pieces with muted, polite hues. His work, which has hung in various restaurants and shops in Waynesville and beyond and is currently featured at the Miami International Airport, is always big and often bright, with deeply saturated hues and an abstracted aesthetic that sticks out around here. In a place where folk art and landscapes are king, Christner has gone the other direction entirely.
He doesn’t really have a choice at this point. He’s found his own, always-evolving style — and wants to see where it will take him next.
In his words, “I try to be as original as I possibly can.”
He always has. And not just with his work. Christner, who discovered painting a decade ago, lived a lot of life before he ever decided to become a painter. Originally from Florida, he spent a good deal of his 20s exploring the world instead of settling down in it. Basically on one big, continuous road trip, he and his friends traveled around the country and worked at restaurants to get by. Like so many people their age, Christner and his buddies weren’t trying to figure out life. They just wanted to have a good time — and did, for years. It was often exciting and memorable but not, in the end, sustainable. When Christner returned to Florida after his long walkabout, he knew it was time for a change.
“I just needed something to fill the voids of what I was doing before,” he said.
At first, he tried out professional photography. A self-taught shooter, he even had his own shop in Sarasota for a while. There, he tried to do “very artistic shots,” he said, explaining he was always suggesting unique angles and perspectives to his clients, often to no avail. Typically, he wanted to create something inventive, while they were looking for standard, smiling shots of their families. It didn’t take too many of those commissioned keepsakes for Christner to realize that line of work wasn’t for him.
It was time, again, to find something new. But what?
It’s hard to say what got Christner painting in the first place, even for him. Like most people, he’d done art as a child but let it fall away as he grew up. For years, being an artist was the farthest thing from his mind — until, for some reason, it wasn’t. About 10 years ago, he bought some bright paint and large canvases (he was working big even then) and did a few paintings. To his delight, he liked them, and decided to keep going. By his fifth piece, he was doing commissions.
“So I was gung ho from there,” he said.
He still is, and his momentum only seems to be gaining. He’s lived in Waynesville for several years now and been able to make a splash in the local art scene, with his pieces adorning such noticeable spots as Tipping Point Tavern. He’s had shows in his home state of Florida, as well, where his current exhibit at The Admiral’s Club at MIA is by far his biggest exposure to date.
For the last two years, he’s thrown himself into his work full time, making sure he has the energy and uninterrupted hours to do what every artist desires to: grow.
“I can’t necessarily paint the same thing over and over again,” he said.
And he hasn’t. It’s hard to describe his work as a whole, as it’s changed so much over the years, and each new series and even each new piece has brought its own personality to the table. In recent memory, he’s done a lot of abstracted figural work, with portraits of old Hollywood figures and women from his past and mystery people obscured by colorful shapes and symbols. His most recent series, “Mysteries of the Sea,” the one now at MIA, consists of fields of textured color, with just a few hints of shapes and almost recognizable images hiding in the canvases. Christner is trying to give the feeling that these pieces were pulled directly from the ocean, like deep-sea treasures.
“It’s all very abstract, very abstract, so I’m trying to create a mood instead of a subject, a subject you can see,” he said.
And what mood would that be?
“All kinds,” he replied.
Maybe that sums up his paintings better than a whole host of adjectives could. Christner’s work, like that of all artists still hungering to be on the creative edge of things, is always evolving. In the future, he imagines pushing the envelope even farther with new techniques and media, maybe even multimedia. Just like always, he’s certainly comfortable exploring.
As an artist, “You never stop growing. You never stop the process,” Christner said.
While that challenge might be daunting to some, he loves it. It reminds him that he has, truly, found what he’s meant to do.
Christner’s work is currently on display at Gallery 262, 142 N. Main St., in Waynesville, and at The Admiral’s Club at the Miami International Airport. For more information on Christner, including photos of past and new work, visit www.waylonchristner.com or call 550-9242.