|This biography from the Archives of AskART:|
Robert Silberman, Preface; Great River Review, Number 29, 1998.
With Warmth: Letters & Journals of Gendron Jensen.
What shines through all Gendrons writing is the intensity of his response to the world and the honesty with which he attempts to communicate his experiences to others. In a world where "spiritual" has become a cant term, fashionable but empty, it is reassuring to be reminded that genuine spirituality is possible. "It is an honor and a privilege to hear a heart speak," Gendron wrote over twenty years ago. With the publication of these exerpts, the honor and privilege is ours.
Diane M. Bolz, "The Beauty of Bare Bones", Smithsonian Magazine,
February, 1998, Volume 28, No.11.
For more than 30 years the 58-year old artist has devoted himself to
transforming relics from natures midden into art objects of uncommon beauty. His meticulously rendered, often monumental, graphite drawings of bones invite the viewer to see these relics in a new way---to journey beyond their ordinary anatomical context to a deeper, more spiritual realm.
Conjuring art from nature, Jensen combines, refines and enlarges these relics, juxtaposing shapes and textures to create sculptural, iconographic forms. These compelling works, at once highly detailed and highly abstract, evoke a primal connection to nature and its many mysteries. "There is a majesty inherent in bones," says Jensen, "a humbling geography that summons me to map its glories." For Jensen, bones represent the very foundation of being. "There is a vital resonance in every bone," he says; "the spirits of the animals are there. They speak of life and the creature they once were."
Lee Fleming, The Washington Post, Saturday, July 3, 1993.
The skill with which Jensen renders the uneven fissures and concentric rings of these amplified bones gives them a striking majesty. Suspended in a pristine whiteness that frees them from contextual constraints of specific times and places, they mediate between past and present, functioning as repositories of both natural and mythic histories.
Michael Welzenbach, The Washington Post, Saturday, October 7, 1989.
Jensen lovingly renders these as isolated objects against the soft white of the paper, and the results are startling. Except where the configuration of a particular structure is obvious---fused sacral vertebrae, for example, or the ischium of a pelvis---these might be detailed studies from hitherto unseen Henry Moore sculptures, only vastly more intricate.
Sometimes, where the smooth surface has been worn away to expose the pitted, spongelike pattern of the bone beneath, these drawings give us a glimpse of the elaborate structure within the objects, compounding their visual intrigue. For the most part, Jensen avoids taking the scientific, anatomical approach and concentrates on the raw beauty of the forms removed from the context of the whole skeleton. From a distance, his untitled drawings look almost photographic...From a few inches away, certain areas of these works look like expressionist abstractions in black and gray.
Rob Silberman, Art in America, April 1988.
Jensen is largely self-taught, and works almost exclusively with pencil on paper. His studies of animal skeletons, seedpods, shells and the like (which he refers to as "natural relics") seem to place him neatly within two long-established traditions: that of the naturalist-illustrator, and that of the religious moralist...
...With their powerful combination of raw irregularity and sym metrical, hierarchical order, Jensens larger images are as imposing--- indeed, as extreme---as any creation of contemporary expressionism.
...The relics become totemic and surreal, pushing representation nearly to the point of abstraction. In Jensens work, bones from different animals, radically enlarged and placed together, appear as an unidentifiable new entity, rather than a coherent skeleton or a recognizeable form...
Jensen is, in his own way, a conceptual artist. He has a flair for working with groups of drawings---series that are variations on a particular theme, or sequences of studies of a single object in several positions.
...Jensen is a visionary, a romantic who, like Blake and Ryder, displays fervor and idiosyncratic individuality. He spent four years as a novitiate in a Benedictine monastery, and his drawings are spiritual mysteries to be divined in the natural world. Drawing for him is a devotional exercise, an instrument of faith and doubt: he has done series on "the physical fact of death," "the sacred and the profane" and "human aggression".
When Jensen started out, he was impressed by Rouault, early Picasso, Giacometti and the drawings of Wyeth. But in the 20-odd years since he turned to making art in earnest, he has done things his own way. The result is a fully mature style, with a technical proficiency and distinctive subject matter that enable the artist to express his most personal, most profound concerns.
Mary Abbe Martin, Minneapolis Star and Tribune, Sunday, June 14, 1987.
The drawings are as anatomically detailed as a microscopic photograph, but Jensen uses only the artists basic tools in making them: pencil, paper and his piercing eyesight. Many of the bones he draws are smaller than the bones in a human hand, but the finished pictures of them---accurate to the finest pore---are often an arm span across. He arranges the bones into formal designs, and the final drawings are so vivid and volumetric that, when shown in photographs, they sometimes look like large abstract sculptures.
"Theres something magical about his drawings, beyond their obvious realism," said John Ittmann, curator of prints and drawings at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, which owns several of Jensens works. "His work is more than spiritual; it is religious in the way that, for the French romantics, nature was a deity."
Edwards Park, Smithsonian Magazine, volume 17, number 5, August, 1986.
No wonder he is touted by critics and wins kudos and bears the responsibility of an almost saintly aura, "It is not just pencil meeting the paper," noted one critic, "but his whole philosophy of the joie de vivre, and also its sadness."
Mary Morse, Twin Cities, volume 9, number 3, March, 1986.
Within a few years, Jensens mastery of his medium so impressed Harold Joachim, the late curator of prints and drawings at The Art Institute of Chicago, that he compared Jensen to Albrecht Durer, the 15th-century German engraver. Virginia Lust, a private art dealer based in New York City and former owner of Galerie le Chat Bernard in Chicago, first met Jensen in 1971 and later agreed to mount an exhibition of his work in the summer of 1972. "He came to the gallery one day and unrolled these enormous---five feet by six feet---drawings of a nut" she says. "What impressed me then was his incredible technique with the pencil. He was a technical virtuoso. Drawings are the most difficult medium to do or to relate to because drawings are really the bare bones of art. What attracts the average viewer is a lot of color with no structure beneath it. Gendron deals with the solid part of art with no flamboyancy, no cheating. Harold Joachim called him one of the greatest draftsmen of all time."
Bob Ashenmacher, Duluth News Tribune & Herald, March 8, 1985.
The treasure of the show is seven images by Gendron Jensen of rural Grand Rapids...They could be called still lifes but actually are more accurately inner lifes. The artists sense of spirituality that keeps them always fresh...One can look at his drawings for a day, or a year or several years and feel a keen sense of pleasure every time.
Monique Priscille, La Suisse, Geneva, Switzerland, August 9, 1984.
Under the name of "Wawa Geshi" Gendron Jensen presents a series of drawings of exemplar execution...Remarkable drawings in graduated grays and blacks, formally stylized, perfect structures. There is a profoundly harmonious relation between them which even seems to transcend this aesthetic notion to become a revelation of a hidden world.
Paul Edmonston, Apelles: The Georgia Arts Journal, volume 2, number 1, 1981.
When one considers the sobering, if not frightening statistics which tell of the near extinction of so many species due to mans slaughtering---in most cases, for profit---the poignancy of Gendron Jensens images and preoccupations in the face of mans predatory propensities and the potential ecological disaster he threatens...stand as a powerful reminder of the often unnoticed, untended and more frequently brutalized creatures which, in all their innocence and beauty, once existed and which, like us all, must also pass away...These eloquent and exquisitely rendered images also remind us of the Biblical injunction given man of dominion over the lower orders; as prepossessing monumental symbols, they are an uneasy reminder of the ever present threats to our existence posed by mans recurring and wanton disregard, his gross ignorance of the delicate natural balances which the mutual sustenance as well as the ultimate preservation of both man and the animal kingdom requires. Such images as these, offered up to us by an artist seeking out the unfolding destiny of his message from the quiet retreat of a centered place, hearken us back to meditative reflection upon our mortality---and our potentialities for transcendence---and the moral laws of obligation, compassion and reverence for existence which the universal order demands of us all.
Fran Addington, Minneapolis Tribune, November 15, 1981.
Jensen has moved through drawings of bone configurations of water creatures, progressed through land-animal bones, and now is examining and drawing the bones of the creatures of the air...You stand back from his large drawings and feel the strange force of these bones of life forms. There is a direct connection with life and death and the processes in between.
William Hegeman, Minneapolis Tribune, May 25, 1980.
Jensens Terrenes pencil drawings are superficially portraits of tiny animal bones that the artist finds around his home. But he so alters and refines these objects that his drawings become meditations on the natural world. The images carry intimations of mortality, yet in the artists fidelity to what he sees there is also communicated a sense of wonder about natures extraordinary complexity.
Don Morrison, The Minneapolis Star, Mary 7, 1980.
Jensen is a unique figure in his creative imagination, in the materials he draws upon for his art and in his manner of living...The new Terrenes series shows fascinatingly complex bone fragments of land creatures...Jensen accords these scraps the reverent attention that their usually unheeded fine detail deserves. He finds in each the essential line and shape that makes it distinct and then, works these realistic design elements into powerful abstract compositions.
Elizabeth Hoxie, The New Art Examiner, Summer 1979.
Built up from a loose line drawing, each work has a fine sense of overall structure, yet includes the subtlest variations of detail. The result has a visual and emotional strength central to Jensens meaning...Generally the most dramatic element is shape against white paper; individually, the play of light and shadow on interior volumes makes each drawing fascinating in itself. Such loving investigation is possible only when an artist has great affection for his or her material and great belief in his or her artistic purpose. Through some magic, Jensens passion is transformed into beautiful and universal art.
Hugh Kenner, The New York Times, January 1, 1978.*
A specially handsome book, first of all, with 20 pencil drawings by Gendron Jensen, identified as a forest eccentric. They are 20 careful renderings of a snail shell, and if you flip the pages you can see it turn over like Charlie Chaplin in his sleep, but more massive.
* For This Body is Made of Camphor and Gopherwood, collaboration with Robert Bly, Harper and Row, 1977.
Herbert Lust, For Show Opening, Galerie le Chat Bernard, Chicago, June 25, 1972.
What impresses me most is that he is swimming against the current...His unique medium is pencil on paper...He has total mastery of this medium. The more one looks, the more one sees deep, rare textures in the graphite constructions. All the gradations are there from deep black to the most ephemeral grays, creating a visual effect similar to translucent porcelain...Jensens draftsmanship is quite rational; he has superb control. Such characteristics indicate that Jensen has original talent. He bears watching.
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