ARTCOLLECTORNEWS: In your own words, can you tell us a bit about you and your artwork?
Marcus Jansen: I’ve been a professional painter for almost 30 years. It has been my passion ever since my first painting was selected to be publicly exhibited in a student school competition in New York City when I was 6 years old. I discovered then that painting was a means of communication, not just an expressive outlet. I come from a working-class family and spent the majority of my life traveling and living around different parts of the world before and after during military service. My father moved our family to Germany, where I was educated. I was born in Manhattan in 1968 and my roots are in Bronx, New York, where I first resided and later started school in Queens. I served in the U.S. military for eight years, including the first Gulf War conflict which became the catalyst that was to change my life from a soldier to a professional painter. I returned to NYC and started selling work on lower Manhattan street corners in 1999. My paintings have become somewhat of a social critique and reflection of what I feel about humanity and injustice. Although they may not be seen as autobiographical per se, you can find my observations and emotions about my surroundings directly or indirectly in my work. I see myself as an observer who expresses what I sense and feel about things through my personal lens. My works are often seen as visual protests; they very intentionally resist conforming in a painterly and historical manner. My attempt is to create something I haven’t seen before, which is usually the only standard when I work.
ARTCOLLECTORNEWS: What inspired you to become a studio artist?
Perhaps it was the fear of being stuck in an occupation that I did not want to do for the rest of my life and also the need to follow the passion for what I love to do.
ARTCOLLECTORNEWS: How has your background shaped your artistic practice before and after your time in the military?
My exposure allowed me to see comparisons that made me aware of differences and paradoxes we have in the world, and I realised quickly we do not all experience life the same way or from the same perspective. My art allows me to speak beyond limitations and labels through my own lens. It records and responds to contemporary life while drawing parallels with history and revisiting the context at the same time.
ARTCOLLECTORNEWS: How has your creative process changed over the years?
My art has evolved, and I hope it will continue to do so. I am always eager to challenge my own work because that allows me to push further.
My departure from urban landscapes to faceless portraits continues to open up new avenues to explore.
ARTCOLLECTORNEWS: How has your artwork evolved since you first started making art?
Materials change periodically; I experiment more now than I did in my younger years. I’ve become more confident in what I do, while welcoming fear as a tool. Any time you do something unfamiliar, it is difficult to find anchor points to hold on to, and that’s always a great place to be, it helps to confront challenges head-on and stimulates creativity.
ARTCOLLECTORNEWS: How do you select your themes or subject matter, and what themes or topics are you exploring in your current artwork?
I think they select me. It’s usually something that I’m intuitively drawn to or that ignites something in me. At the same time, it’s usually something that I feel warrants a response or at least makes me feel wanting to respond. My art is inspired politically, but is not limited to that; only in the sense that it operates within the true meaning of the coming from Greek term “politico,” meaning “peoples affairs,” not in any affiliation with existing political belief systems or ideologies.
ARTCOLLECTORNEWS: Can you tell us about a few specific pieces you have created that you are particularly proud of or that you feel were significant to your artistic trajectory?
I see my paintings like children, so I’d be favouring one over the other. Each painting has its unique character and purpose, but there are of course works that have contributed to my trajectory more than others. My departure from urban landscapes to faceless portraits for example, continues to open up new avenues to explore. They are all important in their own way, and I would argue even stronger shown together. There are other works that have gained less attention commercially, but that I feel are equally important. Through different phases of development over the last years, I have under taken a larger exploration of contemporary subjects that often question standard historical narratives and to reconsider who actually documents history in the larger global conversation.
The underlying themes are usually human concerns we observe in the social environment and the power figures that influence these concerns over centuries.
ARTCOLLECTORNEWS: Tell us a bit about your latest body of work.
My latest body work is a mix of all the above really ,including an experimental group of gestural works on paper I did years ago in2018 which I finally got to use as blueprints for large works that will be showing in Shanghai at Almine Rech. They are landscapes, but more abstract, as well as gestural in nature, stripped of detail and precision in mono chrome colours and blurring the line between fact and fiction, reality and fantasy. The underlying themes are usually human concerns we observe in the social environment and the power figures that influence these concerns over centuries. I’m always interested in power because our life and possible enslavement depends on it. My hope is for them to speak universally, not about a specific location.
ARTCOLLECTORNEWS: Do you have any upcoming exhibitions or projects that you are particularly excited about?
I’m excited about my show in Shanghai with Almine Rech in March. It’s my first solo show in China at a time where Sino-American relations are at a significant low and conflict is looming. I see it as a great opportunity to connect with another country. Art affords us to bring the entire human race together, regardless of educational, cultural, or financial class. It’s always an effective tool for peace and understanding where the viewer decides and is not rushed to come to conclusions.
ARTCOLLECTORNEWS: What do you think is the most important aspect of creating successful artwork?
There are different definitions of success, but doing good art for me has more to do with whether I’ve seen it before or not than it has to do with technical skills. I know painters that have no technical skill whatsoever, but discover something completely new and vice-versa; painters that do have technical skills but say nothing at all. For me, it’s always been about creativity and imagination, often directly related to destroying previous notions we’ve had to discover a new consensus that makes good work.
What it evokes are branding of these historically admired characters being stripped of their power in the 21st century where a multicultural society actually has a voice.
ARTCOLLECTORNEWS: Describe your process of creating a new artwork from concept to completion.
My process starts by observing and listening, soaking in and relating to other things and people around me. This observation turns into an impression and then a feeling or inspiration. That translates into are action of some sort or a sense of understanding or questioning. This initial preparation later manifests itself into action by painting with oils to create the final image. My interest is never what I see in something; it’s usually about what I feel about something that counts. Going through images that I find or things that stimulate me stimulate my senses to take action. They create a foundation upon which I can begin to investigate and explore. Like a spark lighting a fire, once the fire is lit, it takes on a life of its own. My process is the same; after that, the rest is making intuitive decisions and believing that something always happens. The more random, the more interesting they are to me, and I keep what makes me slightly uncomfortable. It’s usually then that I know it’s in the right place. That’s a big part of my process.
ARTCOLLECTORNEWS: Please tell us a bit about what medium and techniques you use and how this influences or supports the ideas behind your work.
I don’t limit my techniques really, but I use the abstract expressionists’ enamel paints typically, maybe because I was introduced to it when I went to a school for house painters in Germany. I was convinced when I was 18 that I could do so many better things with it than painting surfaces and rails. I find materials laying around that may suggest they can work in a particular piece I’m working on and use them; preferably anything that surprises me and interrupts the work in an interesting way.
ARTCOLLECTORNEWS: What has been the most memorable artwork you have created, and what makes this piece memorable?
The faceless series seems to have a lasting effect on people. I started painting these in 2011 and released them in 2012. I hadn’t seen anything like them before, so I thought why not and it echoed the era of anonymity and power I was investigating at the time. They range from men in business suits to imperialist, colonialist figures in 2015. Maybe what it evokes are branding of these historically admired characters being stripped of their power in the 21st century where a multicultural society actually has a voice for once when it comes to painting history today. In my paintings, unlike in classical paintings, they are not powerful. In mine, they are questioned and sarcastically mocked. My first one was “Art is the New Founding Father.” It was a shocking discovery that happened randomly and did what I wanted it to do, so with that, a new series of work was born. Shock in this case is what I wanted.
The Abstract Expressionists as well as the German Expressionists that attracted me were free and wild, and I enjoyed the freedom in their paintings.
ARTCOLLECTORNEWS: Are there any particular artists or movements that have greatly influenced your work, and in what way?
I was first influenced by pioneering graffiti writers in New York City in the 1970s when it was just emerging, but I was too little to pay attention to it until I moved to Europe. I came back in 1982, the year the whole city was taken over by graffiti tags and throw ups. There wasn’t a surface that wasn’t touched, from the airport all the way to where I was staying in the Bronx. I re-examined this form of expression on public spaces as intriguing and more so what it did to the city’s landscape as a whole until I realised this was a movement taking place. It made me look at my surroundings differently, and then it of course came over to Europe where it took on its own unique signature. European writers like DAIM, SHOE and LOOMIT were the big names, with Germany, France and the Netherlands leading the charge. I played around with it, but couldn’t keep up with the masters that had an earlier start than me. The New York pioneers were all heroes to me, and it’s the movement and colours that stayed in my subconscious. The Abstract Expressionists as well as the German Expressionists that attracted me were free and wild, and I enjoyed the freedom in their paintings. There was a sophistication I appreciated and felt all three movements had one thing in common: they all emerged during conflict, which I related to.
ARTCOLLECTORNEWS: What has been the most rewarding part of your career as a studio artist?
I was able to raise my family on my income from my art. I succeeded in doing what I wanted to do, which was to live off selling my art even though it was a struggle I embraced the feeling. I consider myself extremely fortunate to this day to have a talented musician wife herself that is extremely supportive.
ARTCOLLECTORNEWS: How do you handle creative blocks and bouts of artist’s block?
I don’t have many of those. The problem that I have is what to do first. I’m usually overwhelmed by ideas and thoughts to a point where I don’t know where to start first. I usually can’t keep up, and because of that, many drop off unless I take notes, which I do. I have a notepad that is usually pages long.
ARTCOLLECTORNEWS: Do you ever collaborate with other artists or create artwork in a team?
Those that work with me as part of the studio team know I work in isolation. There is a certain solitude I need to feel my energy and receive energy to paint. This is not possibly for me with others around me. However I have an incredible team doing all kinds of things outside of that handling things that need to get done, and they do it much better than I can.
One of the best ways to market work is to make and keep relationships with good people.
ARTCOLLECTORNEWS: What do you think is the most important skill a studio artist should have?
To be obsessed with your work and exploring new avenues. To be a good painter there is a certain level of addiction to it that’s needed. You do it because you need to.
ARTCOLLECTORNEWS: What do you think has been the biggest challenge in your creative career?
To accept the business around making art. That’s not taught, so it's trial-and-error. I went to school for management and in the Military attended leadership academies; I think helped me manage what is now an international operation. Managing family, raising children and entering one of the most challenging careers one can choose, with no guarantees of success or money, is exactly what kept me going.
ARTCOLLECTORNEWS: How do you go about marketing and promoting your artwork, and how important do you think that is?
At this stage, I have wonderful galleries that represent my work internationally, but it’s important to have your work seen at any stage. Although we have an informative internet these days, it can also be silencing, due to the sheer quantity of data and algorithms that take on a life of their own. No matter what art career level you are on, one of the best ways to market work is to make and keep relationships with good people. That would be my first advice. Also be prepared for the time when your art is of interest, because you never know when your big break will come around the corner or when the market will demand shifts as it goes through cycles.
ARTCOLLECTORNEWS: What advice would you give to aspiring studio artists?
Work hard and believe in yourself and your visions. The world needs your view through your unique lens. Document your work carefully and thoroughly; it’s your history, and do not let anyone else tell it unless you’re involved. I’m looking forward to our next show from March 17 to April 29 in Shanghai with Almine Rech, and my next fair at Expo Chicago in April with Richard Beavers Gallery. Any patrons out there wanting to make a difference in other people's lives can support our Marcus Jansen Foundation Fund. We are committed to helping artists, veterans and communities in need.