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Brave new world for Jensen

Sarah DixonVail, CO, Colorado
Special to the DailyLocomotion, by James Jensen.
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VAIL A few years ago, the content of a James Jensen art show might have inspired comparison to an Old World masters museum in Europe; classical style, pastel medium, lustrous still life paintings of fruit and flowers. Hold onto your hats if thats what youre expecting when you walk into the Masters Gallery this weekend. Jensen has taken his art in a new, contemporary direction in recent years, and the results are astounding. Vibrant colors, Mondrian-esque shapes and lines, and entrancing depth and texture typify his new style. And, it being the Ft. Collins-born artists 33rd art show in Vail, the change may come as a shock to some connoisseurs in the valley who have followed his work for 20-plus years. But Jensen insists that the contemporary direction is a natural progression for him as an artist. Because of my classical training, I really understand the weight of things and the balance in a painting, he said from somewhere in Utah Tuesday as he headed toward Vail for the show. Especially with color and texture. So what youre seeing in my new work is a balance of the two: quite contemporary paintings, but with a masters palate. Youll see that in the vibrant brushwork particularly. Its not just random strokes, the paint is applied in a thoughtfully and painterly fashion.The result is breathtaking. The paintings are strong, very arresting when you first see them, Jensen said. Theyre a very brave look in contemporary work, lots of saturated colors, meant to grab you.And, upon closer inspection, the paintings reveal their full complexity.As you draw into them, they really draw you close and another story starts to unravel, Jensen explained. There is very intricate and deliberate brushwork, the multi-dimensional, subtle undertones up close thats what keeps you from being fatigued by a painting. You need to draw the viewer in.

Drawing the viewer in is something that Jensen has been doing for a long time in the valley. He first came to Vail to ski with his family in 1968. So when the young art student was approached two decades ago to be part of a show in the village, he had no hesitation. My folks have had a place there since Vail had rope tows, Jensen said. When I was picked up by this art dealer, I was in New York City in art school, and he said Id be doing a show in Vail. I thought, thats home to me. And in 20 years since then, its really blossomed. Knowing so many people, seeing them year after year, theyve really watched my work grow.And though his new work has taken him in a very different direction from his classical material, he feels strongly that his audience will be happy to make the artistic journey with him. Its not like seeing art from a different painter, he said. If you lay all the paintings out in chronology, you can see how I advanced, how it all evolved. Rayla Kundolf, director of Masters Gallery, agrees.

This is a free form for him, but you can still see the sense of his traditional training and his mastery of pastels in the new works, Kundolf said. Flowers for Adelina, for example. The traditional still life is there, but the colors are popping out. This new direction has really allowed him to come out and further himself.For Jensen, the evolution was born out of curiosity and a need to grow as an artist. I think as an artist, as with anything else, you can get good at something and stay with it its as close to job security as you can get, he said. I was really solid with the traditional work, I had mastered pastel. But there were other materials on the shelf that I was itching to try, wondering if I would be able to go further. It was enough for me to see it as a challenge.Though his recent contemporary works have met with great success, Jensen has not stopped creating his classical works altogether. Ill set up my studio in the morning, play classical music and create the more traditional pieces, Jensen said. Then in the afternoon Ill blare some rock n roll, create some big, aggressive contemporary paintings. Its a beautiful and perfect balance.Kundolf agrees.Were so excited to have him, she said. He has a great following. He is a very vetted artist – hes part of the National Pastel Society. Now this new direction – he had no choice but to continue growing and achieving the top of his field. And thats what hes done, and will continue to do.Jensen says that his new, broader reach has brought him fulfillment, not just as an artist, but on a more personal level. Thats where my joy is as an artist – I have earned a right to paint for the sheer joy of painting. The galleries gave me that latitude, and its turned out well.


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