R.R. Christensen’s self portrait

It has to be quite an honor for a young artist, in this case 2014 Cleveland High graduate R.R. Christensen, known by her classmates as Rachel Rounsville, to be selected by Southwest Art magazine as “one of 21 artists under 31 in the U.S. to collect now.”

The magazine’s September 2020 issue includes Christensen — noted on her website as fine artist and portraitist, and the daughter of Jared and Darlene Rounsville of Rio Rancho — and several of her beautiful paintings to highlight.

Southwest Art magazine has been published for over 40 years, with each issue providing readers with in-depth information about various styles, artists, pieces, galleries and more. There are articles about people who work with various media.

“(Southwest Art magazine) is quite well-known,” Christensen said. “They feature either established or up-and-coming young folks.”

Born in Utah, and then spending a few years living in Las Cruces, the Rounsvilles moved in 1999 to Rio Rancho, where their talented daughter attended Vista Grande Elementary, Mountain View Middle School and Cleveland High.

It was there that she found her niche, thanks, she says, to her visual arts and AP Art teacher, Michelle St. Andre.

It was in Argentina that she found her husband, Andrew, when they were serving on missions for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

“We got to be good friends,” she said, and that resulted in the two tying the knot in 2016.

Andrew is in the Marines — the couple initially lived at the USMC training base in Quantico, Va., before moving across the country to 29 Palms, Calif.

“We’re moving around a lot and I’m teaching (on occasion). It’s actually very lonely (at 29 Palms),” Christensen said.

Christensen was initially inspired in the arts by her mother, who was trained as an artist, and, “Over the summers we would do art lessons — it was always part of my life.

“In high school, though, I thought about engineering,” but she later decided she would prefer to have her hands stained by charcoal and oil paints.

“Michelle St. Andre at Cleveland High, my AP Art teacher, was the first teacher that told me I had the potential to make a career out of something I love,” Christensen said, then taking that advice to heart (er, art).

“I studied realistic art at (Brigham Young University) — anatomy and drawing. I graduated in May 2019. Provo was inspiring,” she said.

Also inspiring for Christensen was renowned master portrait artist Patricia McMahon Rice, an award-winning artist specializing in fine art oil paintings in the Classical Realist tradition.

“She taught me a lot about skin tones and what makes a good portrait,” Christensen said. “Art is a thing where you’re never done learning.”

Being included in the artists under 31 to collect is a highlight in her young life.

“I have had some awards from Portrait Society of America,” she said. “I teach by request; during COVID, it’s a lot more difficult. I had a couple of student shows (while at CHS) — an annual art show (staged on the fourth floor of City Hall).”

Looking down the road, Christensen said she’ll expect to make more money from her work as she ages: “It’s a slow build, (but you) make more money at it when you’re 40 or 60.

“I count myself lucky I have such a supportive husband,” she added, with a Utah event approaching, at which she hopes to display some pieces at St. Georges Arts Festival.

She said she does her best to return to Rio Rancho “as often as I can,” and is excited about a piece she’s doing of the Sandia Mountains, which, when completed, she hopes to have it “find a home.”

You can see Christensen’s work at her website, rrchristensenfineart.com.

An image by Christensen, “Inside Looking Out,” is included on the half-page dedicated to the Rio Rancho artist in the Sept. 2020 Southwest Art magazine. Courtesy image.