"Bill Jensen makes luminous and visionary paintings which seem to express unabashed longing for the transcendental in post-modern darkness. His paintings glow like beacons of lost faith."
Induction statement to the American Academy of Arts and Letters, 2014
Vito Schnabel Gallery is pleased to present Bill Jensen: Wandering Boundless & Free, the gallery’s first exhibition with the renowned artist. Opening February 22 at the gallery’s Clarkson Street location, the exhibition will be on view through April 6.
One of the great veterans of the New York art scene, Bill Jensen occupies that rarest of categories: a painter's painter. Jensen is the living embodiment of an aesthetic lineage that descends from Albert Pinkham Ryder and Marsden Hartley, to Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning. A painter who has always gone against the grain, his work is difficult and easily misunderstood, particularly in today's world of pervasive media. For Jensen, a painting is a record of a search, an "image" discovered in the act of making—a philosophical investigation that distills experience to its essential qualities. Every painting is a challenge to the viewer, and an invitation to direct apprehension and instantaneous awareness. Wandering Boundless & Free will feature a selection of paintings made over the last fourteen years.
From an early age, Chinese painting and calligraphy have been an enduring inspiration. Jensen has described his work as an engagement with the Taoist conception of "Appearance occurring of itself." The development of a painting is a process of discovery of an 'image' that involves paying attention to the painting itself as part of the living forces that spontaneously emerge in the flow of all things natural: a movement from emptiness to presence and back again to emptiness. Always attentive to his materials, Jensen strives to release the elemental energy contained in pigments and oils, which is evident in SUBSTANCE, SPIRIT & SHADOW (T'AO CH'IEN 7TH C) VERSION II, a triptych from 2010–2014 in the exhibition.
For several decades Jensen kept a studio in Italy, where the landscape of Tuscany and the art of the Renaissance have been enduring influences. TRANSGRESSIONS, a monumental triptych from 2011–2014, featured in the show, is from a series of paintings Jensen made in response to Michelangelo’s Last Judgment frescoes in the Sistine Chapel.
In recent years Jensen has spent summers in northern Vermont, working exclusively on drawings in an open-air studio in the midst of mountains and streams—a natural setting that reinforced his sense of art as a wild living force, tempered by a refined aesthetic sensibility. The aim is not to depict nature but to enter into it. Jensen's paintings are possessed of a vital spirit that lies just below the surface, a latent spiritual quality which the artist sometimes refers to as immanence. It is an invisible pervading force neither realist nor abstract, but partaking of both.
I paint so the cosmos can see itself
I paint so that the cosmos can be with itself
I paint so that the cosmos can remember itself
I paint so that I can make contact with the cosmos
I paint so that I can be with the cosmos
I paint so that others can remember the cosmos
Bill Jensen, Haiku, Ides of March, 2021
Read Bill Jensen's conversion with artist Chris Martin here, courtesy of The Brooklyn Rail, 2007.