New York

Bill Jensen

Bill Jensen’s gouaches depend on centrifugal breakout from confining shape or on centripetal convergence of forces into a dense centrality. His organically derived figures, mythically primordial beyond their reference to a basic nature, spontaneously transform, as if living out a cosmic destiny. One has the sense of looking at a microcosm of some half-fathomable macrocosm, a natural object that is simultaneously a symbol of a larger nature and a being with a strange life of its own. These gouaches raise the question of mystical naturalism in a way that Avery’s landscapes never quite do. His natural objects (mussels, for example) function simultaneously as strange specimens and poetic symbols; they have the heritage of Arthur Wesley Dow and Marsden Hartley behind them but they have pulled into a smaller arena, as if to show us where nature is today, and how small a piece of it one can work with to achieve spiritual union with it. It is as if, working with rocks from the moon, Jensen were claiming union with the goddess Diana. These small works are significant because they show what I think will become increasingly important to artists as style becomes more instrumental than innovative: a confessional relationship to a subject matter. Jensen’s works are important because they show an unconscious confession, a relief after all the pseudo-up-front works talking about such commonplaces as homosexuality. In our society a relationship to nature is less taken for granted, and so has greater resonance, more important implications. Today an authentic relationship with nature is more shocking than any sexual ones, for all sexual relationships are socially over-determined.

Donald Kuspit