Local creative Q&A: Andrew Jensdotter on the process of painting and his work at MCA Denver

“There’s a feeling of possibility in Denver right now. That’s one of the defining features of the Denver art scene.”
6 min. read
Yaxin Luo and her mom, Liyan, inspect art by Andrew Jensdotter at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Feb. 15, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Andrew Jensdotter's paintings are a process. There are steps. Some of them are pretty laborious.

But the final works, currently hanging at the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, look from a short distance more chaotic than the process. There are traces of what's been painted in dozens and dozens of layers, like the afterimage in your vision when you've been staring at something for too long. Get a little closer and you can see the work -- the seemingly endless layering of paint revealed in each chunk he's carved out.

Jensdotter's route to the MCA ran through Gildar Gallery and graduate school at CU Boulder, which first brought him to Colorado in 2012. He now splits his time between Denver and Edwards, Colorado. When he called in to talk about his latest work, he was in Indonesia.

AD: How did you get your start in Denver?

AJ: I came for graduate school and went to CU Boulder around 2012 and was part of that program for three years, and then when I graduated I just loved the area, loved the Front Range, decided to stick around and ultimately met Amanda, my wife, and she's really established in the Denver area and up in Vail, and so if we got married, I knew I was going to stay here.

AD: What's the CliffsNotes version of your career here?

AJ: Right near the end of my tenure at CU Boulder, I was offered a show at Vertigo ... and Adam Gildar happened to go and see the show and contacted me and offered me representation. That kicked off my relationship with a solid and up-and-coming gallery in Denver. From there we had tremendous success.

AD: Tell me about your process for the paintings hanging at the MCA now.

AJ: The process varies. I really tried to utilize the MCA show as a chance to try new things, and they were very good about letting me kind of branch out into some new processes. I worked with (Curatorial Associate) Zoe Larkins and over the period of like six months. A lot of ideas were discussed and the work that I've been most known for up to this point are the carved paintings. I did two of them for the show and even they are sort of new iterations of the carved paintings. The way I make those is I paint on the same canvas a whole bunch of different paintings on top of each other, and there's usually some kind of overarching theme, like Judy Garland, for example. In that instance, I'm painting around 100 portraits of Judy Garland and at the final layer, there's that thick skin of paint and I carve into the layers using a razor blade, and that reveals sort of the whole history of the painting and it creates sort of a composite image of all the layers. ... What's different about the two in the MCA is that the final layer is visible. I left the background visible around and over the head of the figure.

I think one of the concerns of the painter is trying to create a new kind of visual space for the viewer to inhabit. I think the carved marks alone have a created a different space, but with the two different textures, I'm very excited with the result.

Yaxin Luo (right) and her mom, Liyan, inspect art by Andrew Jensdotter at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Feb. 15, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

AD: Do you listen to music while you paint? I'm curious if it finds its way into your work.

AJ: I do. It's I think one of the perks of the job, I'm a huge music fan.

I would say that more than anything, listening to music just gives me the energy to complete these paintings because they're quite -- they're almost like endurance paintings. They take a long time to make, the carving is rather strenuous, so music just kind of gives me the energy to finish them. ... When you think of a painting being influenced by music, that brings up the idea of the artist doing a call-and-response thing, like making jazz. These paintings are much more process-based. When I begin, I know what the steps are. The painting kind of makes itself in a way. ... The pattern sort of reveals itself as I carve it.

I'm interested in moving into paintings that are a little more open to the old painterly notion of more expressive work. I enjoy the paintings I'm making, but that leads into some of the other work that's in the MCA show that's still based on creating layers, but they're kind of opening up a new process.

AD: So how do you know when a painting is done?

AJ: The process itself kind of takes the guesswork out of it. That was something I struggled with earlier in my painting career, knowing when a painting is finished. I still struggle with that. And maybe that is behind the carved paintings, because I wanted to find a way to punctuate the paintings. ... I start carving from the top left and once I'm done with the surface, I'm done with the painting.

AD: How do you reward yourself when you're done?

AJ: I've never even thought about that. Sometimes there's a a little happy dance. These paintings are kind of hard on my hands and my wrists. I reward myself sometimes with a salt soak, soaking in hot water.

AD: If someone asks you where to go for art, outside of the big museums, what do you tell them?

AJ: There's a great little gallery scene in Denver and it's growing, and I think the art scene in Denver is every year becoming more interesting. David B. Smith is a tremendously good gallery. Robischon Gallery and Gildar -- I think Adam Gildar has done fantastic things to promote new and interesting visual art in Colorado.

AD: What's the greatest strength of Denver's art scene and how can it grow or improve?

AJ: I would say its strengths are that it doesn't really have an identity. Denver is sort of becoming what it's going to become right now. You go to other cities like L.A. and they've been through so many cycles. There have been booms and busts. The Denver boom has been rather recent and we're still sort of shaping and molding what the city is. So it's a good time to be an artist, to be any kind of maker. ... And what I've seen and I've been lucky to be part of it is there's a great group of people who aren't trying to climb over each other, but they're trying to work together. There's a feeling of possibility in Denver right now. That's one of the defining features of the Denver art scene.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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