Dean Jensen appears slightly mystical if you scroll over his Instagram profile…all black and white depicting a mix of his own art and interesting “found” images and thoughts. A pensive and extremely talented creative with a very unique eye that catches and creates works that one can truly engage with…
We managed to grab some time out of his busy schedule (with a very short deadline, sorry Dean!) to try and get to know the man behind the charcoal and huge, old-school book press…no really, read on to see…
What started you in your career of art? What sparked your interest in creating art?
I realised from a very early age that I was an observer – especially of people and their context. My mother was a very big influence from very early in my pre-school years as she spent a ton of time with us engaged in drawing and painting.
Truthfully, my art head/heart only genuinely switched on in a conversation with my uncle (who is an industrial designer) around the simple notion that art can be whatever it needs to be. As an artist I can distort and manipulate and force random into linear if the work needs it. I very quickly connected that fact that art is not illustration, but rather serves to evoke something from the viewer. My observation habit came full circle when I understood that there is a space inside every human, that every viewer will self-explore using a trigger that I can create.
Although I studied around the time before and during the collapse of the Apartheid regime, the art scene in Durban where I grew up was undergoing radical change. Early on, I gravitated to Design as a career because I fell in love with the idea of the industry which at the time was shifting between traditional media illustration and the very fledgling Desktop Publishing world of Mac. I had a massive advantage because of my ability to draw quickly and accurately, so my career went from agency to agency, illustrating and designing, working my way up the Advertising ladder until I eventually retired out of Advertising in 2015 as an Executive Creative Director to focus solely on Strategy.
I have also been lucky to be in the SA music industry as an album designer, with more than 300 album covers over 20 years to my name. Of course I stayed in touch with the changing art scene and exhibited frequently in collaborations and collectives, from B.A.T. ; Guilloises Freedom of Expression, NSA Gallery and a series of self-funded exhibitions, which I still do now.
Where are you based? Why there?
I am currently based in Johannesburg after moving here in 2005 to further my advertising career. Johannesburg is a very unique melting pot of ideas – a lot of tense undercurrent that reflect the time in SA where we find ourselves. It’s a space that has a lot of commercial opportunity, but also a wave of very free thinking young art that is free of a lot of ‘prescription vs. rebellion’ thinking that most artists of my generation were subjected to.
How would you describe your art?
For me, two things generally govern: Purposely break rules, but subtly. And secondly, lots of negative space.
I don’t enjoy colour much. I very much enjoy the process of exploring complex ideas that can be distilled into simple but profound moments and then captured or held in a medium. Afterwards it can be opened, time and time again, by every new viewer so I allow myself to mix/wreck media and applications as the work needs. I also regularly allow myself to create big complex art pieces in order just to destroy them again. Particularly burning the work – it preserves some ritual part of the creative process that is solely mine.
What is your favorite medium to work in/with when you are creating?
My favourite medium is still printmaking (very much a love) particularly Lino, but I also enjoy experimenting with any medium that I can make marks on as a vessel for carrying ink. That is why I favour the heavy cast iron book press or hand-pulling rather than the roller-type press. It’s a bit more savage.
I also love pushing the boundaries of charcoal and ink, as both of these are core to my roots, but we know each other really well, so pushing it beyond where they were supposed to go is part of this friendship.
Hangon, you actually have and use an old book press to create your works?
Yes, I do. It’s a 19th Century, 125kg cast iron book press that I found at a dealer in the Eastern Cape after many months of searching. I had to restore some of the parts to get it going again, but it is totally worth it. I prefer the vertical press because Lino is not the only medium I throw at it – broken glass, wood, plastic and even rubber is no issue so I can exert massive pressure vertically on basically any inked surface. This makes for quite a unique piece as each one will be different in a sense as it’s all down to the “clamp” you end up getting depending on the paper, ink and type of plate you use. Somehow it ends up giving the piece a certain tradition…a soul that is hard to explain…
Im not a huge fan of the right way in art. Much more the feel way. And the press has tons of feel and gives me space to stick all kinds of stuff in there to pull prints out of.
What inspires you to create art?
I am triggered by the need to simplify (in stark contrast to the rest of my life which is a complete madhouse!) so when I encounter a concept that feels like it needs to be put through the ‘engine’, I would immediately jump on it.
Occasionally I will accept a nudge from myself to create a very technical, more illustrative work, to keep my technical ability evolving. Yes, an Owl and a Zebra and the like…
Who are some of your favorite artists (local and/or international)?
Probably my biggest art hero is Marcel Duchamp. For obvious reasons, I guess.
Furthermore, I love Anselm Kiefer, Jasper Johns and William Kentridge. I also love the artworks of Skotnes, Boonzaier and my absolute favourite, Vivian Van Der Merwe.
Any plans/changes/exhibitions/projects/anything exciting on the horizon for the near future?
I think many artists are in a perpetual loop of the ‘next mark’ or next stroke in their minds. As always this relentless obsession with ideas needs a constant execution stream… But at the moment I am enjoying the freedom to create works, piece by piece, completely different or in a series if required. No fixed exhibitions, rather just chasing down the next work.
I would love the idea of participating in a themed, curated group exhibition of artists some time. C’mon UNSUNG ART! Set us all a theme and a deadline for a show… [we love this idea, thanks Dean!!! Keep an eye on social media and see what we cook up for later this year]
What has been your best memory/experience related to your art?
Interestingly, for me, the same drive that has always existed between Art and Design is always that moment when you can see in a viewer’s face that you moved them. That’s an addictive rush.
I also remember and appreciate the recognition from senior artists and art mentors, some of whom I’ve been very fortunate to meet. Derick Healy and Vivian Van Der Merwe spring to mind… Creative titans who took the time to engage with me around my work – that type of deep (even though brief) mentorship is something I try and pay forward too. Awards are nice too ☺…
Do you have any formal training/education relating to art or are you self-taught?
Fine Art and Design tertiary qualifications although the biggest learning by far is getting in…
What is your favorite medium/art form to view/collect?
I personally collect Lino and Woodcut works, as well as a few ink pieces. I also own a work by Derick Healy and I am very lucky to own oil works from some of my idols like Skotnes, Boonzaier and Vivian Van Der Merwe. Such a diverse mix of styles but each’s story just continues to move me.
What other interests/hobbies do you have?
The blessing/curse of having a fast-spinning mind is that you need a big spread of hobbies to escape into. I have been a serious Hotwheels collector for about 2 decades now. I have around 3500 of them.
What do you do in your spare time to relax and unwind?
I love fly fishing. The stranger the location/species the better.
Check out all of Dean’s work we have available and keep in out out in the next week or two for some brand new work that will be available online – all available here
We love getting to know our artists and hope that this can give you some more insight into the world of this extremely creative individual. At best, we hope this will inspire you to go out and create!