Jens Jensen

paintings, works on paper & prints

“Color comes naturally to Jens Jensen. His love of it, mastery and experience of it, sets him apart from most German abstract painting made these last thirty years. This painting inclines to use dramatic light and dark contrasts, hard and incised shapes with gothic drawing, and Jensens is virtually the opposite. But an original talent must find its own way even if that means going against the trends.

Abstract painting seeks to eliminate references to the real world, the human figure, the landscape and to literary subjects. This might seem to limit its range but it compensates by being forcibly direct and engaging in a multiplicity of content. It can be both easy to make, as in paintings that adorn furniture shops, and difficult, as it is for Jensen.

That it looks easy is true and the parent who says, “my child could have done that”, is not so wrong. Modernist artists have long tried to capture that freshness and spontaneity of child art as well as that of other cultures that have differing notions about technique than our Western tradition. Child art looks wonderfully fresh on first acquaintance, but soon after it looks strangely tired (unless it is made by son or daughter). But a good Jean Fautrier or a Hans Hoffmann stays fresh and new, and just why this is can hardly be put into works: one can say it is the product of experience, rightness of decisions, inspiration and more, but this quality has to be personally experienced. This discerning eye can see this. It can differenciate between, say, the listless stripes painted by Daniel Buren and the arresting stripes painted by Kenneth Noland. That so many art world people cannot differenciate such an elementary comparison as this one is an example of the enormous obstacles that are preventing a rightful recognition of Jensen´s painting.

His paintings are not so different from those of Pollocks and Fautriers generation. They continue and expand on the advances made by that generation. However they are different and their newness comes from subtle shifts in emphasis rather than the seemingly cataclysmic newness of 1950´s advanced painting. Recent innovations in acrylic paint technology, with pigments, additives and agents allow Jensen to pour, to spoon and smear paint, ranging from thin glazes up to heavy impasto. The paint can be even mixed on the surface of the painting, it dries fast which means that areas can be worked over and changed relatively quickly. Whilst oil paint is ideally suited to traditional painting, it actually limited the earlier generation of abstract painters.

In the past and also the present, the brush is the tool that puts the paint on and can give effect to the paint surface. It can also show the artists touch, his handwriting as it were. Jensen paints with various implements but rarely uses a brush. Similar to other advanced painters today, he has assimilated the remarkable innovations of Pollock, who by using sticks and similar implements was able to throw out skeins of paint over the canvas. He allowed the paint itself to flow onto the surface and this method carried his expressive touch. Jensen works the paint onto the surface as though he were icing a cake, by dropping and sliding the viscous acrylic but never too close as to rub that surface. We can identify with his character from this handling of the materials, it is intimate and gentle, his canvases have been stroked and fondled; eroticism is a part of his art.

Technique and method are only a means to an end, and the 'end' in Jensen´s art is a totality and rightness of form, achieved through his use of colour. A dominant hue sets the mood so that we tend to think of the magenta painting or of the orange painting, whilst fully aware that other colours play with and answer it.

He is ever arriving at unexpected combinations and fusion of colour which are never repeated in other works. As with only a handful of leading abstract painters, these works cannot be properly seen in reproduction. The photograph in front of me, which is helping me to write this, is only an aide-memoire, and would I be caring so much if I had only seen reproductions of this work? It is as though these new painters have decided that their work can only be appreciated when the original is in front of ones eyes, insisting that the palpable and tactile nature of paint is of paramount importance.

The influence of Jazz is also a part of the multiplicity of content that his art contains. Most if not all his paintings are made whilst listening to Jazz (he began his career in the arts as a trumpeter), and it is the improvisational aspect to Jazz that is most obvious. In the process of making abstract art, one has to just do something in order to get started. The Surrealists best contribution to Modernism was their interest in automatic drawing or painting blindfold, and an artist with high taste and experience can allow himself to be surprised by such results, to capitalize on those results. For Jensen it can be a particular piece of music, or the blending of instruments, or a solo passage that will get him started, so that the painting will take on a life of its own. And that improvisational process, spontaneous, direct and charged, is the means by which he finds the solution to the task he has set himself and a unified painting is achieved.

With the magnificent group of paintings ´Fila (greek, plural = leaves), o.T.´, dating 2006, he has taken his art into an altogether higher level. Like the best of concepts, this one is simple. A limited range of colors has been prepared in advance for each painting. He has decided what the mood, feeling and range of color will be for each picture. There is a ground color, the white of the canvas has to be covered. Various quantities of the prepared colors are smeared across the surface mixing and running into each other, the furrows and rivulets of thick and thin paint making for tense and expressive drawing. Over this and guided by what is already there, he dumps mixtures of the same colors with his ladle. The scale is modest, it corresponds to how far his arm can stretch across the horizontal canvas, and it is right. His color is alive and he has found the means to let it out, the pictures are light and airy like a breath of fresh air. Jensen along with just a handful is keeping the art of painting going, saying that is is the physical and palpable reality of what is in front of our eyes that really matters.”

David Evison, 2006