OLAV CHRISTOPHER JENSSEN
... Jenssen is Norways leading painter.
He lives in Berlin, mostly, and is professor of painting in Braunschweig. Jenssen is known as a painter's painter. It is clear that, just as other painters have informed Jenssen's work (one is reminded of moments from Miro, the scrape of an Albert Oehlen, a Gerhard Richter smear), so Jenssen's licks turn up in a necklace of blobs in a Chris Ofili painting, or in a pattering Peter Doig snowstorm. That painters borrow from one another is part of painting's richness, its collective unconscious. There are only so many things a painter can do to signal individuality. Perhaps this one-thing-leading-to-another is also what Jenssen's chains of oval blobs are all about. On occasion they festoon the painting's space, along with raggedy, sagging webs and skeins of lines, along with all the letters, the unknowable secrets.
Looking at Jenssen reminded me of a remark Susan Sontag made about the shrewdest thinkers and artists being "diagnosticians of defeat" and "archaeologists of ruins-in-the-making". This is exactly what lies behind Jenssen's paintings, and what is declared on their surface. As he makes something, he unmakes it, unmasks its uselessness. At first sight, Jenssen's paintings have the appearance of some grand emphatic statement. Sometimes the surface is filled with a magnificent, moiled over and refracted turmoil; at other times it is covered with what looks like a simple declarative statement, set down in one colour, like a sentence that can't be retracted. Then I realise he is saying very little; there is no great drama, no grand statement.
I like Jenssen's work, his curious palette: a furious, fluorescent pink, sulky military browns, a bitter, shrieking yellow, foresty greens and a fake-tan beige; his constant emptying out and recomplications of the painting's space. His first foray into sculpture, a group of wonky columns in glazed, fired clay, doesn't seem so successful, but then it was incompletely installed when I visited.
Forever adding things and leaving things out, Jenssen's work as a whole is a sort of Sisyphean struggle with defeat and possibility. His art seems to me frank and sly, and a big show like this reveals his intelligence in a way single examples of his work cannot. Perhaps his aim is precisely that singular work that says everything and nothing. He hasn't made it yet, and knows he never might.
He works best in series, and nowhere is this better shown than in the two big suites of monoprints and paintings on paper in the show. Moderation, more than 100 paintings on waxed paper, are framed and laid out as a kind of floor-bound installation on the Baltic's second floor. I am Your Best Friend - 48 monoprints of little heads, some like Russians in furry hats, some mask-like - are all to do with sameness and difference, what makes us alike, what distinguishes us. The cumulative effect of these two series is telling. You get a sense of his thought in action, as though painting were itself a fitful stream of consciousness.
One of the great pleasures of Jenssen's work is its lack of programmatic zeal. He isn't trying to sell the viewer a signature style. In a way, his paintings give us a view on a mental process as much as on the painter's physical activity. This is what happens in the most interesting abstract painting of the moment, by the French painter Bernard Frize and the marvellous Raoul de Keyser in Belgium. It is also the lesson of the great room of Barnett Newman's Stations of the Cross currently at Tate Modern. None of these artists have gone out of their way to be original, but have revealed their individuality through the work itself. The work reveals them. This is the real secret buried among Jenssen's impenetrable lists.
Adrian Searle on OCJ´s solo exhibition at the BALTIC, Gateshead, 2002