Born in 1903, Jensen belongs to the heroic generation of Barnett Newman Jackson Pollock Mark Rothko and Myron Stout and Forrest Bess . Jensen is one of the greatest abstract painters of his or any other generation. It’s a continuing mystery as to why he has never received anything like the attention he deserves.
Alfred Jensen was an eccentric citizen of the world who had traveled everywhere, spoke five languages and personally knew many of the giants of modernism. He studied with Hans Hofmann in Germany and Despiau and Dufresne in France, had a studio upstairs from Mondrian in Paris, was friends with Dubuffet, Rothko, Miro, Duchamp, Breton, and Allan Kaprow. He was a Byzantine primitive, an anonymous Peruvian carpet maker, an Egyptian high priest, a Chinese sage, a crazy autodidact living in Glen Ridge, New Jersey.
Actually, to call Alfred Jensen an abstract painter is misleading, because the paintings are so concrete. They don’t just illustrate or describe ideas; they contain a tremendous amount of concrete information. The paintings may allude to a complex web of ideas, but they are almost absurdly specific. Nothing in these paintings is anything other than itself.
The mature paintings are flat patterns mapping a wide range of numerical and philosophical systems. Each square inch of the paintings is carefully plotted out and composed. Many paintings are actually covered with numbers including Arabic, Mayan, Chinese, and other ancient counting systems. Some paintings include symbols from the I-Ching, Mayan calendars, and scientific diagrams. Other paintings are completely abstract, subtle checkerboards structured with eccentric but absolutely particular logic. Many paintings include written notations, headings, titles, and quotations in large, loopy script. The paintings are dense, condensed and impacted with ideas, theories, symbols, and grand schemes.
They are painted with pure color oil paint squeezed straight out of the tube and spread over the surface with a palette knife. The paint is presented as actual colored dirt sitting on the surface. Jensen is never asking the paint to be something other than itself, like a nose, or the sky, or deep space, or atmosphere, or almost any kind of space.
Jensen knew everyone, but remained alone, an outsider in the middle of the art world. He avoided attachments to any school or movement. He developed later as a mature artist than his contemporaries the Abstract Expressionists and was never fully accepted by many of them. He was a major influence on some conceptual and minimal artists, but declined to be included in their pivotal group shows in the early 1960′s. He has been pigeonholed as a bridge between generations, as a “mystic,” an eccentric, a difficult artist.
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