By Rick Paulas & Editor Kriss Perras
Approaching one of Marcus Jansen's canvasses is like getting your bearings after having your brain rattled by a near explosion.
The chaotic colorful strokes that make up the landscape, the dominant force in any Jansen work, lends itself to momentary squints of confusion. It's only when the viewer latches onto some familiar object—a hand, a ball, a butterfly, a Dalmatian—that they begin to piece together the work. It's only then you realize that what you're seeing isn't some surreal fever dream, but rather a frenzied form of real-life documentation trying to make sense of the world.
This act of documentation is vital to understanding Jansen's work. In the John Scoular-directed film, Marcus Jansen Examine and Report, the artist is quoted as saying, “painting is the most intimate act of war.” It's a point-of-view born out of his years serving with the U.S. Armed Forces, including a tour in Operation Desert Storm. Jansen's art is a way for him to investigate the world around him, cohere it into a presentation, and exhibit the facts of the situation to the audience. Jansen, born 1968 in Manhattan, New York, was first inspired in his teen years by New York graffiti artist WEST Rubinstein, aka WEST ONE after an introduction of the two. This influence is evident even today in Jansen’s work.
Jansen is currently on tour in Germany and Austria, and his exhibit entitled Obscure Line Between Fact and Fiction is now on display at The Weinstein Gallery in San Francisco. We spoke to Jansen about his work.
MAJ: What is your process?
MARCUS: My process starts with vague ideas or feeling about a subject that are inspired by everyday events, mostly in connection to global subjects or, at times, biographical information of myself that merges with contemporary life. I gather the general material I choose for that day, and then begin using paint and other tools to construct an impulsive, and usually critical, painterly response on canvas.
MAJ: How did you become a painter?
MARCUS: I started discovering that I had an excess amount of energy to use paint to express myself maybe at six years old, when I had my first painting shown and selected for a NYC exhibition at the Lever House in Manhattan. It became clear to me that this was something one could actually do and communicate with.
MAJ: Who and what are your influences?
MARCUS: I had many early influences, staring with the graffiti art movement in New York City. Since we lived in the city in the 60s and 70s, it was something I observed and watched grow into a world art form. Later, when we moved to Germany, I watched the American abstract expressionists and expressive painters that were there.
MAJ: What does the Examine and Report tour entail?
MARCUS: The museum show in Milano is titled Decade, which is the title of my book by Skira Editore in Milano released in 2016. We have the U.S. tour and the European tour, both include different paintings from the last ten to twenty years. The European tour is falling under the first German publication title Aftermath by Hirmer Verlag. Each exhibition is titled, differently as the selection changes based on space. These are all first mid-career retrospectives.
MAJ: How did you start the series Faceless and why?
MARCUS: I started it in 2011 as a protest or sarcasm to a new system we are in that's been described by scholars like Noam Chomsky, and recent university studies on oligarchy or elite society, that's faceless and invisible. I started to investigate anonymity and secrecy by blurring out faces of shady business characters, but it continued in to a large investigation of mankind at large, and where real power lies.
MAJ: Can you explain the painting from your series titled “Cyber Surveillance on Wasteland?”
MARCUS: I generally reject explaining pieces that's why I paint them. It's the viewer's job to get engaged in his or her own way, and adding any explanation is like adding French to the Chinese language for people from China. But this painting was inspired by the overwhelming surveillance increase in the United States and globally over the last decade. The painting was painted in 2009, before anyone knew who Edward Snowden was.
MAJ: Why did you become a painter?
MARCUS: It's the only thing I wanted to do after eight years in the military service, a very regimented and dictating environment for those that join. It helped me understand that I preferred being free, but I also realized it was a way to serve in social terms as well even though I have always painted for myself. Painters often paint because we choose this medium as a form of communication. It's broader and you don't have to speak in normal vocabulary terms using sounds to express yourself you just show the work.
MARCUS JANSEN’S WORLD TOUR 2018:
First German Museum mid-career survey at Museum Zitadelle Berlin February 10-April 15, 2018
Marcus Jansen Examine and Report by John Scoular: http://www.marcusjansenthemovie.com.