Steve Jensen has been a working artist for over 30 years. He comes from a long tradition of Norwegian fisherman and boat builders, growing up on his father’s fishing boat. His current body of work, “Böts”, explores the universal image of the boat.
Jensen plays an influential role in the Pacific Northwest, making his mark on the landscape with monumental public artworks, as well as emotionally charged paintings and sculptures imbued with personal narrative. He works in many mediums, oil on recycled wood, carved naturally fallen cedar, large sculptures in bronze, aluminum, and stainless steel, and small cast sculptures in resin with recycled materials.
Jensen's current body of work revolves around “The Voyage”. In the wake of losing several family members and close friends in a compacted period of time, he sought a way to process his grief. For Jensen, the boat embodies the concept of passage from place to place, from life to death. Carved calligraphic motifs reflect his close relationship to the water and the refashioning of found elements mirror the aesthetic traditions of his Norwegian forbearers. The boat has become a hallmark of Jensen's artistry and a symbol of his personal voyage and path to healing.
Exhibited widely throughout the United States, Jensen has been awarded numerous awards and grants, including the Morris Graves Fellowship and the PONCHO Artist of the Year Award. He has also been selected for more than 30 public art pieces in the U.S., Japan and China.
The art of Steve Jensen — be it paintings, sculpture or carvings — suggests a glimpse into the distant past while hinting at the unknown future. Each work evokes a sense of continuity that transcends time and space, always circling one back to their individual path and their personal voyage of life.
“The voyage’’ has been a recurring theme for as long as I can remember making art. The boat as a haven, the vessel of transport — is meant to symbolize a journey into the unknown … perhaps to the other side, or from the old life to the new. I want my viewers to contemplate what the voyage means to them. For me, it harkens back to my grandfather’s boat. I grew up on boats.”
The symbolism of the boat has a strong place in Steve Jensen’s life. It represents the traditions of his Nordic heritage and his ancestors who sailed from Norway to the United States. Its meaning is cross-cultural and reflects the influence of his extensive travels, including Egypt, Kenya, Tahiti, India, China, Thailand, Antarctica and Iceland. Those who view his work may recall their own ancestry, regardless of the origin of their family line.
The traditions carry beyond the imagery of the boat. Jensen’s instruments include chisels and tools handed down from his father and grandfather who were master boat builders. His craftsmanship speaks to the universality and the timelessness of his tools as well as the materials he uses — recycled wood and glass, found objects, paint, steel, and boat resin.
Jensen repurposes found objects, taking that which was obsolete in its original form and giving it new life and meaning…the result being a subtle reference to the precarious relationship between humanity and the world's available natural resources.
“I have been using recycled materials for over 35 years. I pick steel off the beach. I love finding salvage boat materials, especially portholes and sailboat parts. It's always exciting to figure out how to make something beautiful out of something that was discarded.”
His paintings invite the viewer to peer closely, be it into the depths of multi-layers of boat resin and paint or to imagine floating in one of the carved boats — that may be featured prominently or be so faint as to be overlooked. His sculptures appear ageless, as if dredged from unknown depths instead of being made of recycled glass and metal and found objects. Jensen's carvings and totems seem eternal.
From the origin of the materials to the art that results, the viewer is gently invited to contemplate, to re-consider what we discard as well as what we behold today as beautiful and sacred.