JENSEN, from “1¢ LIFE,” 1964


Original color lithograph, archivally matted and framed, 22 1/2 x 20 1/2 inches, 887/2000

SKU: DFA6059 Category: Tags: ,

Alfred Jensen fuses the meditative transcendence of Pousette-Dart with the more opaque symbolism of Davie in enigmatic works that embody the artist’s very personal methodology. His various geometric and numeric systems reference sources in ancient mythology and philosophy, but they have been translated into the distinctive idiom of the artist. The resulting work is often difficult but always rewarding.

In the late 1960s, Jensen worked with ideas based in planetary and mathematical structures. These abstract scientific concepts manifest on Jensen’s canvases as brightly colored bands, bars, and checkers, onto which he applied paint directly from the tube. Jensen also meditated on the nature of dichotomy throughout his career, imbuing the oppositions of black and white, odd and even, left and right, up and down with particular importance. Black and white mingle side by side to create the central cross shape in both Saturn and Mars, representing the joining of heavens (white) and earth (black)

Jensen attended San Diego High School at night, working as a lumber salesman during the day. Learning of Hans Hofmann’s school in Munich he was determined to enroll, hiring on a German ship; he made it to Munich, but mistakenly attended the wrong school.

   “I worked my way across as a sailor…when I arrived in Munich I couldn’t remember the name…it was an “H” man, but I didn’t know who it was…Hofmann, not Heymann!!  

After meeting the Americans Carl Holty and Vaclav Vytlacil, both Hofmann students, and because 

“Heymann’s classroom was being repainted… the whole of Heymann’s students went to the Hofmann school to take drawing…There I found myself drawing between Vytlacil and Holty..” 

In the fall of 1927 Jensen met Saidie Adler May, a wealthy art collector and Hofmann student; she offered her patronage to Jensen to continue his studies. They enrolled together at the Académie Scandinave in Paris in 1929 where he studied sculpture with Despiau and painting with Friesz and Charles Dufresne; Dufresne becomes Jensen’s “spiritual painter-father.”  The wealthy Sadie May and he became traveling companions as he became an advisor to her growing art collection. In the early 1930s they began to travel throughout the major cities of Europe collecting modern French art.

“ I got in contact with all the great artists, Matisse, Giacometti, Miró, and we collected all these people and we visited the studios and bought right there…”

While in France, Jensen became acquainted with the work and writing of Auguste Herbin, whose interest in Goethe’s color theory stimulated Jensen’s thinking. The returned to the States and began collecting important contemporary American painting through dealers Rose Fried, Sidney Janis and Leo Castelli.  After 1945 they began to collect works by Paul Klee, Vassily Kandinsky, Theo van Doesburg, Naum Gabo and Fritz Glarner!  Jensen was reading Goethe’s Zür Farbenlehre, a study of color theory that will occupy him for the next twenty years. 

Jensen settles in New York where his neighbor Ulfert Wilke introduces him to James Johnson Sweeney, Director of the Guggenheim Museum.  Jensen also meets Mark Rothko and a long-lasting friendship develops. His first one-artist show at John Heller Gallery, New York, was an exhibition of twelve canvases based on his study of Goethe’s color theory. These studies resulted in a change of his palette to prismatic colors (the artist’s term for those colors found in the light and dark spectrums of the prism). He is invited to participate in the Stable Gallery, New York, and is included in annual group shows with artists such as Franz Kline, Joseph Cornell, Willem and Elaine de Kooning and Robert Rauschenberg.

    “I knew that the prism held the clue that would enable me to arrive at an understanding of the genesis of color…the black and white mirror process in the prism paralleled that in the atmospheric dome and this led to the idea of the checkerboard image.” With a breakthrough to the “checkerboard” image a very active period in Jensen’s career begins.  In 1961 he has his first major one-artist show at the Guggenheim Museum.

He joins the Kornfeld & Klipstein gallery, Bern, with a first European exhibition at their gallery for which he executes a series of paintings superimposing figurative elements of prismatic colors on checkerboards of black and white or in reverse, figurative elements in black and white against a prismatic colored checkerboard.  A two-artist exhibition with Franz Kline at Kunsthalle, Basel, is organized where a retrospective selection of sixty of his works is shown. 

Jensen made a trip to Guatemala, and Mexico, where travel is done by air. A series of paintings is inspired and comprised of concentric bands of small checkerboards.  Our important works on view here, Mars and Saturn, were executed in 1968 as Jensen’s interests turned to physics and astronomy, and becomes preoccupied with the ancient “quinary” number system and the seasonal effects of the planets; his interest in number structures and dualities provides themes for numerous canvases.  He studies the theory of “paramagnetic phenomena vs. the diamagnetic approach” espoused by Michael Faraday.  In 1985, a major retrospective exhibition was mounted at the Guggenheim Museum, New York.

“1 Cent Life” began as a simple idea by artist Walasse Ting in 1962, developed during talks he had with his friend the artist Sam Francis. Ting wanted to combine international artists and different styles into a single book, linking them together in one collective spirit alongside his own art and poetry. 

“1 Cent Life” was a landmark publication from 1964, and now a collectable book based on the impressive artwork it contains. It was a revolutionary tract for a collective aesthetic; an assembled vision of Pop and European abstraction, featuring flat hard-edged and splatter painting; biomorphic art, splashing florescent colors and monochromes all meeting up in a single loud and dynamic package. “1 Cent Life” is among the most beautifully conceived and artistic book-works of the 1960s, unlike anything published before or after. 

With large empty spaces next to areas of maximum color saturation and layered density, “1 Cent Life” was an inspirational book of 1960s design and spirit – a polyglot enterprise –and certainly Ting’s best known work. 

“1 Cent Life” is a large elephant-folio unbound book containing 62 lithographs made by 28 European and American artists with 62 letterpress poems by Walasse Ting and set in multi-colored inks. The lithography was realized and printed in Paris by Maurice Beaudet and the typography carried out in handset letterpress by George Girard. The book was published by E. W. Kornfeld, Bern, Switzerland in 1964, and edited by artist Sam Francis. 

Ting’s poems are jarring and mystical, sometimes epic and soaring, screamed out in all-capitalized letters or whispered in lower-case, creating a language lost in limbo, choked off from reality, lacking standard grammar and punctuation, soaked with impulsive wit and exoticism – a language of a complete new consciousness – a tongue that is bound with the earth and sky, inflamed and out of sync with technology and the world. Ting is difficult but always true to himself. 

“1 Cent Life” was dedicated to the maverick Detroit-based contemporary art collector Florence Barron, most famously known as the woman who in 1963 commissioned Andy Warhol to produce his first self-portraits. It is speculated that Florence Barron put up the funds necessary to print the edition, as one of the main themes of her collection was her love of books and words and their relationship to contemporary art, advertising media and culture. Florence may have just been close friends with Ting, an artist she supported and promoted, among her friends and contacts. 

In addition to the original printing of 1900 unsigned copies, there was a numbered portfolio edition of 100 signed copies in a pink cloth-covered solander box. There are 62 original lithographs in colors by; Pierre Alechinsky, Karel Appel, Enrico Baj, Alan Davie, Jim Dine, Oyvind Fahlstrom, Sam Francis, Robert Indiana, Alfred Jensen, Asgar Jorn, Allan Kaprow, Alfred Leslie, Roy Lichtenstein, Joan Mitchell, Kiki O.K., Claes Oldenburg, Mel Ramos, Robert Rauschenberg, Reinhold, J.P. Riopelle, James Rosenquist, Antonio Saura, Kimber Smith, K.R.H. Sonderberg, Walasse Ting, Bram Van Velde, Andy Warhol and Tom Wesselmann. 

The chosen title; “1 Cent Life” is ambiguous and unclear. His respect for the low and neglected is evident throughout the book, where painting, women and food are at the core of Ting’s life and there is little need for monetary considerations. Prostitutes, bums, movie stars, the Pope and J.F.K. are given equal billing in the poems. 

There is no hierarchy or order to “1 Cent Life”, no artist is featured and all pages are loose and removable. The title could refer to “one sent life” – a nod to the creator (artistic or spiritual) as in the unity of the collection of artists contained within. Ting’s ideas and canvas were always in the now, a reflection of the eternity present in everything.