Alfred Jensen

Alfred Jensen
May, 1995
p. 149

Alfred Jensen was an artist for the New Age before there was a New Age, a conceptualist before the term was coined, and an intellectual whose depth of obsession invites associations with outsider art. Because of Jensen's intense individualism, his paintings, rather than being relics of "isms" past, have gained greater relevance with time.

Born in 1903 in Guatemala of a Danish father and a German Polish mother, Jensen was a cowboy and chicken farmer before studying art in Germany and Paris. He was 54 years old when he began making the work for which he became known. A friend of Mark Rothko and Sam Francis, Jensen applied paint to canvas like sumptuous cake frosting, influencing a younger generation of painters from Elizabeth Murray to Mel Bochner.

His dense, kaleidoscopic canvases are diagrammatic-grids incorporating numbers and symbols that represent systems of rational and mystical inquiry both ancient and modern. In his fascination with man's attempt to understand the order of the universe, Jensen studied theories of color, light, time, and mathematics, as well as architecture, the Mayan calendar, the I Ching, electromagnetics, DNA, and growth hormones.

This show comprised the never-before-exhibited series "Where the Gods Reside" (1967-68) 12 canvases based on aerial views of specific Mayan pyramids. According to his wife, Regina Bogat, Jensen counted every step to discover more about their meaning, which he believed to be related to astronomy. The paintings, however, are graphic rather than pictorial-pulsating, color-saturated checkerboards that converge in the center to create illusions of shifting planes. His familiar numbers and symbols are absent in these works, but the hues are Jensen's own variation of primaries and secondaries: an opaque, leafy green, yellow ocher, red, turquoise, and transparent, capriciously glazed purple play off the alternating black and white.

While the result is as compelling and mysterious as its subject, this is not borrowed mysticism. Jensen's systems and calculations would be inconsequential without the eye and passion that transformed them into a sensuous and satisfying visual experience. Jensen's magic is all his own.

-Carol Diehl