Marcus Jansen's Expressionism Today: Urban, Socio-Political Paintings opened on Friday at BIG ARTS on Sanibel Island. The exhibition presents a broad cross-section of old and new paintings, but all are united by the artist's keen and cultivated sensitivity to recurring and timelessly relevant social trends, dynamics, and political structures.
Jansen was on hand for a 4:00 p.m. Gallery Talk that quickly morphed into an extended Question & Answer exchange with the audience. Jansen is an intelligent, introspective individual who prefers to hold his cards close to his well-muscled chest. Pressed to reveal the "hidden message" behind iconography like the black tires and beach balls that populate many of his compositions, Jansen quickly demurred saying, "I don't like to give away too much information about specific imagery. It's up to the viewer to interpret each painting."
But he did cough up the key to understanding his still-emerging body of work when he divulged that "paintings are not something I create, they're something I find; they teach me something I didn't know before."
How does that help? Well, earlier Marcus told the BIG ARTS audience that he doesn't plan his compositions, doesn't do a preliminary drawing, doesn't even bother with an underpainting. Rather, he approaches the canvas without any preconceived notions, and simply lets the painting evolve of its own accord, as though he is channelling some higher power or universal source.
And while that may be, Jansen's interaction with the blank canvas may be more on the order of an artistically-initiated variation of Freudian/Breuer psychoanaltyic free association. You see, Jansen is one of the most socially aware and politically attuned people you'll ever meet. If he weren't an artist, he'd probably be a pundit on one of those political radio or television talk shows. In fact, art critic Justin Ferraro said it best. “It is seldom that you find a painter who combines technical skill and expertise with a profound sense of purpose and a truly unique awareness of the world."
Jansen's sensibility is unquestionably informed by his life experiences. His mom was a nurse from the West Indies. His dad was an international businessman from Germany. Although born in Manhattan and raised during his formative years in the Bronx, he was educated in Europe and travelled frequently throughout Europe, which exposed him to the cultures and political concerns of people living in the U.K., France, Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Italy and Spain. Although he eschewed politics at the time, they were always at the forefront of every family conversation and discussion. How could they not register with him at both conscious and subconscious levels?
But it was during his stint in the U.S. military that he finally became a critical political thinker whose analytical skills were shaped by a 9-month tour of duty in Iraq during the First Gulf War and time in South Korea, where he was stationed just 15 miles from the DMZ. And this unique, global military-political perspective is what winds up influencing the direction his compositions take as he approaches his canvas each day. What you see is what's on his mind, whether in the forefront of his consciousness or percolating up from the depths of his unconscious or artistic soul.
"Things that are happening in the world crop up in my imagery," he admitted Friday. "Foreclosures, homes being marked with numbers post-Katrina," anonymous Wall Street bankers, and political threats to our welfare and country are all reflected in the paintings that hang throughout the Phillips Gallery. And that's the power of Jansen's art. It not only opens a dialogue between the artist and his canvas, but the viewer and his or her own thoughts, views and awareness of present-day world events.
Challenge yourself by taking in Expressionism Today: Urban, Socio-Political Paintings at BIG ARTS. The exhibition will remain on display through March 30.
For more information, please visit www.bigarts.org or telephone 239-395-0900.