By Steve Jensen
June 19 through October 9, 2016
A visit to an artist’s studio can feel as intimate as a private gallery viewing or as rambunctious as an urban archaeological dig – in the case of Seattle-based artist Steve Jensen, it is both. Jensen owns a cavernous 3-story loft, studio and ad hoc gallery on Capitol Hill that is engorged with art waiting to be discovered: oil paintings, funerary sculpture, even cedar totems whose surfaces writhe with his own deeply personal, hand-carved symbology. The scene is all the more impressive considering dozens of his pieces are currently on loan for solo shows at two museums; and opening June 19, at Foss Waterway Seaport in Tacoma.
The Seaport is pleased to present BÖTS, a show of contemporary sculpture and painting by Jensen. The theme of the sea voyage lies at the heart of Nordic mythology, and it illuminates this show by an artist who comes from three generations of Norwegian boatbuilders. He transports the rich symbolism of his heritage to the present day in bold woodcarvings and muted color-field paintings that bespeak death, rebirth, and the mysterious voyage across the threshold of life into the unknown.
The centerpiece of the show is Voyager, a series of what Jensen calls “funeral boats”. It arose from the stunning loss of four loved ones in eight years – his best friend, Sylvain; his parents, Norman and Pat; and his companion of 20 years, John. Sylvain made a drawing and requested that he hew a carved boat of it for his ashes; from this intimate tribute the first vessel, and a way of coping with grief and loss, emerged. Following the four deaths, the artist continued with an exploration of the spiritual voyage as a universal theme, carving and welding boats inlaid with maritime material such as rusted anchor and chain found on beach walks, and cultural artifacts collected on his world travels.
In Jensen’s paintings, boats plumb physical and mystical depths: unmanned vessels are glimpsed through sea mist, or hover dreamlike above the ocean’s calm, moonlit surface. Some of these canvases have found a unique trajectory in (or for that matter, out of) this world: In 2013, Seattle high-tech tycoon Richard Garriott selected two of them as part of a 12-piece art collection that was launched on a spaceship into outer space, and on return auctioned off to raise money for science education.
Jensen’s work is in museum and private collections around the world, but his roots remain firmly attached to Capitol Hill. Growing up, the artist spent years sailing on family fishing boats; his given name is Sven. With the sea in his blood, his Scandinavian heritage shines throughout this show with a nod to the memory of boat builders, dock workers and craftsmen who came before him.
BÖTS by Steve Jensen at Foss Waterway Seaport June 19-October 9, 2016. Address: 705 Dock St., Tacoma, WA. http://www.fosswaterwayseaport.com. See more of Steve Jensen’s work at www.stevejensenstudios.com.