Artist Spotlight: Matthew Jensen

EuropeNow Can you tell us a little about yourself and about the kind of art you create?

Matthew Jensen My work grows out of the traditions of landscape photography and brings the experience of being in a place to the forefront. I make photographs, maps, build collection of found objects, lead walks and adapt my process to each new landscape. I love giving myself over to a place: walking slowly, sitting, listening, collecting objects, looking for clues, smelling different things, really trying to understand what a place is like and how it has changed. Of course I try to make photographs that capture some of these nuances but a picture can only do so much. The other components of my work like maps, artist walks and collections of found objects, encourage first-hand experience with a landscape. I want to prove that there is wonder and mystery in every landscape. When people feel connected to a landscape they will fight to protect and preserve it.

EuropeNow What about your primary medium do you like best?

Matthew Jensen After spending hundreds of hours walking, researching and collecting in a landscape, I can distill the entire experience down into a few photographs. The final photographs become evidence that there is wonder in even the most familiar, overlooked, local landscapes. And I really love the act and idea of looking and focusing. It is such a meditation. The smallest components of a landscape, the grains of sand in a stone, specks of lichen, hairs on a flower petal, all of a sudden these things become visible and important.

EuropeNow Can you tell us about your creative process?

Matthew Jensen Landscapes are curious things. Every single one of them, regardless of their current state, is ancient. My creative process starts with cultivating an obsession for a place: studying, walking, listening, researching, collecting, photographing. I never know what I am going to do (and I don’t want to know) until I spend a great deal of time in a landscape. I read every book I can find on a particular place, look at old photographs and maps and combine that with fieldwork. Eventually I discover something, sometimes an actual artifact or object, other times a historical anecdote or environmental problem. The discovery is then developed into a work of art or an action. It is a lot of work but it is so much fun!

EuropeNow Can you tell us a little about the piece you donated for this auction?

Matthew Jensen The photograph, Juniper on the Viaduct, Ozone Park, Queens, is from a series of work looking at the landscapes along an abandoned rail line that will one day become a 3.5-mile linear park called the QueensWay. For the series titled, A Place that Moves People, I walked the sidewalks and streets surrounding the entire rail line looking for examples of how this inaccessible place is familiar and currently used by residents. In this photograph, what looks like a fresh Christmas tree hoisted up by a local, is actually a thriving juniper. The tree grew in this spot on its own, in a desert-like setting with almost no soil and constant exposure to the harshest environment. Somehow it survives and seems to triumph over the cement.

EuropeNow Was there a single moment when you decided to pursue your passion for art?

Matthew Jensen I studied art and political scienc,e and I worked in politics and on campaigns for a number of years after undergrad. I was almost going to go to grad school for a degree in public administration. I was accepted to a great program, offered a generous scholarship, but when I was meeting with the dean something finally clicked. I declined the offer and spent the next year preparing to apply to MFA programs. However, whether working in politics or art, the same environmental issues have been my motivation.

EuropeNow If you had the opportunity to meet one artist, living or dead, who would it be and why?

Matthew Jensen Someone who made something beautiful 4,000 years ago. I can’t imagine a more interesting conversation.

Matthew Jensen lives and works in New York. He received a BFA in political science and fine arts from Rice University, and a MFA in photography from the University of Connecticut. In 2016 he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in photography and a Peter S. Reed Foundation grant for photography. He has received support from the National Endowment for the Arts for his projects Park Wonder in 2017 and The Wilmington Center for the Study of Local Landscape in 2013. His photographs are in major public collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the National Gallery of Art and the Brooklyn Museum. In 2015 his solo show, Feels Like Real, debuted at Yancey Richardson Gallery in New York. His site-specific projects and walks have been supported and commissioned by the High Line, the Queens Museum, Kenpoku Art Festival, the Brandywine River Museum of Art, the Delaware Contemporary, Storm King Art Center, Wave Hill, and Brooklyn Bridge Park, among others.

Lillian Klein is the programs coordinator at the Council for European Studies. She holds a B.A. in literature with a minor in religious studies from Barnard College, as well as an M.F.A. in fiction from Columbia University. Previously, Lillian assisted in the Memberships, Programs, and Awards Department at PEN America Center. She also served as a teaching fellow at Paris American Academy’s writing program for two consecutive summers.

Christie’s Education (CE) New York has entered into a collaborative partnership with the Council for European Studies at Columbia University (CES). A first joint project is a forthcoming online auction, the proceeds of which will be used to create a new scholarship to be awarded to a CES-CE applicant. The featured work in this article has been donated to the online auction, which will take place in December 2017.


Published on August 31, 2017.


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