Monday, March 5, 2012

Bill Jensen

Cheim & Read

Except for the fact that Jensen is represented by one of the top galleries on the planet, you might think that theres a cult following.
Somehow maintaining his stature as an indie painter in the eyes of his less fortunate art making admirers is something of an art world oddity, and has probably benefited a career that might not have flourished without that cache of reticent, working guy art star.   
Ever since his tumble into the painted void at Mary Boone, Jensen’s exhibitions are always fraught with an air of trepidation and anticipation, what will this recalcitrant (at times) Brooklyn Bohemian, once a lowly art laborer just like you and me come up with next?
Part of the Jensen allure is an aura of mysterious identity. His elusive persona (coined “Bashful Bill” by videographer Loren Monk) is reflected in his use of furtive pigment that dissolves resolve right in front of our eyes. Appropriately, Jensen’s approach to painting is hard to discern, is he purposeful or passive, demonstrative or demure? Giving Jensen the benefit of any doubt I suppose we could say that his work has gone beyond the boundaries of physical purpose and presence to achieve a less densely structured and formal beauty.
Yet Jensen does expound (if not on camera) a proposition for his paintings that describe a filmic premise inspired by the greatest (I say this unabashedly) visual filmmaker of all time, Andrei Tarkovsky. Of course all painters should be inspired by Tarkovsky, (the most profound image maker since Rembrandt) but that Jensen should focus so intently on a filmmaker dedicated to saturating his celluloid in an enriched vision of the physical world’s earthy substance seems ironic. Perhaps Tarkovsky’s exalted command of the human condition is what interests Jensen more.
He sites more specifically Tarkovsky’s cautionary tale of the icon painter Andrei Rublev, an achingly grim, yet devastatingly beautiful narrative that might dissuade lesser art students from picking up a brush.  
It may be a good thing that Jensen diverges from Tarkovsky’s stark literalism and lets his pigment disperse. Jensen’s work inhabits a nether region of interior immateriality, not celebrating the majesty of nature in the here and now, but optically describing the visceral remains of an otherworldly photographic process not quite completed.
His dark gestures of sinewy texture derive from palette knifing oil paint to exquisitely fine films of semi translucent layers. This seductively lovely process lures his art into a kind of trance-like monochromatic stasis. The artist’s love affair with ultramarine violet can get tiresome, and the flattened picture planes tend to become stretched and stressed out looking.
The large black and white, neo-Dubuffet works are the clunkers of the show. These unfinished looking slabs of concrete crevasses should have been left in the studio. Its possible that eventually they could have been transformed but now seem a lost cause. Jensen has always needed help choosing what to show. Why the gallery hasn’t been more assertive I don’t know. 
But technical intent and results don’t seem to be what motivates Jensen. My favorite piece in the exhibit “Oracle Bones III” is a small messy looking canvas that reeks with a wonderfully ancient patina. Innocuous though it may seem, this is painting incarnate. A softly radiating lumination emanates a Gustonian essence. Sloppily applied drips detail a nuanced history of paint covering paint. This bit of archeological excavation reveals a vessel transported through a sense of history, mummified by medium and chroma.
Jensen’s conundrum of process resisting pictorial stability tends to try the eye. Not that painting has to please and soothe, but pictorial integrity requires internal coherence. Substance results from a foundation built on patience and perseverance. Jensen has an extraordinary ability to compose rapturously intuitive narratives that sing to us in color and form, but mostly his stories have no plot, beginning, or ending.

Oil on linen
20 x 28 inches

Oil on linen, diptych
53 1/2 x 78 1/2 inches

Oil on linen, triptych
55 x 126 1/2 inches overall

DOGAN 2011
Oil on linen
40 x 32 inches

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