13 January – 22 March 2014
White Cube Hong Kong presented an exhibition of paintings by Sergej Jensen. This marked Jensen’s third exhibition with the gallery and first exhibition in Asia.
Entitled ‘Evian’, the exhibition continued to demonstrate Jensen’s practice of incorporating diverse material elements into his pictures and utilise an unconventional and contrary application of acrylic paint. Mostly small in scale with a subdued palette, the paintings employ methods of layering, charring, staining and adhering to create arrestingly minimal compositions. Jensen recycles materials within his work, using the stains, tears and traces of use on linen, burlap, silk and wool as compositional readymades for his own pictures. In this way, he has been ‘systematically removing the conventions of painting from his work, removing even gesture and paint itself’ (1).
Jensen’s work is abstract to the point of negation. Using the principles of the readymade, he draws attention to the incidental details of his materials, transforming leftovers from past projects into new works as a gesture of self-reflexivity. In 'Grey Plastic Scar' (2013) torn pieces of material are carefully sewn and then painted over, so that they appear like past scars under skin whose dynamic verticals create their own linear composition. Patch-worked money bags, suggestive of a symbiotic relationship between art and money, are used as a ground for 'Money Bags' (2013) and a series of black monochrome works are made by charring the outline of an abstract shape directly onto the canvas in 'Brown Diamond' (2013). While these latter works adhere to the idea of painting without paint, the texture and pigment of their charred crust mimics the tactility of paint itself. In 'Untitled' (2013) Jensen has dyed an American quilt an inky Prussian blue, while allowing the other colours of the found textile to emerge as burgundy fan shapes that appear to float on the work’s surface.
Veering between a kind of abstract nihilism on the one hand, and the merest hint of representation on the other, Jensen’s pictures remain unsentimental and impassive. In one work entitled 'Teracotta Scar' (2013), for example, which employs a neutral beige ground, tiny patches of embroidery are built up into protean shapes, which while purely abstract, are reminiscent of insects or other natural forms moving across the canvas surface. When viewed from a distance, they could equally take on the anthropomorphic qualities of a human face. In 'Incense' (2013), which appears to deftly combine the purposeful with the accidental, delicate traces of ash burnt by incense sticks form repetitive lines that emerge from the bottom of a canvas. Their linear pattern extends from the wooden frame, the singed markings evidence of where the sticks initially rested.
In 'Acrylic Painting III (dancing figures)' (2013), a willfully thick use of acrylic medium creates two ghostly outlines, and the virtually translucent impasto blurs the figures in motion. Although Jensen draws from artists like the French Romantic 19th Century painter Théodore Chassériau or other classical masters, Peter Eleey notes in his essay ‘Regression Tourism’, Jensen ‘gives shape to a reconsideration of modernism's utopias, now tempered by failure and corrupted by tragedy; he reminds us that those myths survive only as style.’ (2)
1. Jacobson, Heidi Zuckerman Jacobson, ‘Sergej Jensen’, Distanz , Berlin
2. Eleey, Peter, ‘Regression Tourism’, ‘Sergei Jensen’, Distanz, Berlin