Leo Jensen

Artwork   Bio

Unique in his approach to art, Jensen was never concerned about fitting in with either the “New York School” or the “Beat Generation.” Throughout his life he would remain the artist as prestidigitator, a conjurer whose purpose was amaze and delight the crowd. True to his roots, he drew inspiration from the Midway, the rodeo, and the visual vocabulary of American primitive. After all, he concluded, “to move the heart and lift the spirit is magical.” Even in his dress he was an anomaly in New York where dark charcoal gray attire prevailed. He often wore a turquoise vest, against which a Native American red-and-white glass-beaded bolo tie stood out. His socks were navy blue with white polka dots. To many, he played less the role of a New York artist and more that of an actor, like Jon Voight in the 1960s hit movie, “Midnight Cowboy.”

Art critics from the present era can easily make the error of over-analyzing a Jensen piece. For example, in 1964 he created a series of eight different Sippers that featured variations of a circular wood cutout upon which was placed a collage of a woman’s mouth. The lips sucked upon a plastic straw that was inserted into a paper cup with faux ice cubes. The sippers are mounted on transparent color Plexiglas and then on a wood base covered with vinyl liner paper for kitchen drawers. When this critic first saw one piece from the series — Sippers–Two Cups — it brought to mind the possibility that it may be Jensen’s parody of a famous early Pop sculpture of two beer cans by Jasper Johns, which were cast in bronze and hand-painted trompe l’oeil (Painted Bronze–Ale Cans, 1960). Jensen’s Sippers–Two Cups are the opposite. Their similarity ends with the subject matter: two beverage containers side-by-side and meant to be sipped. One is heavy cast bronze while the other is light, bright, and ephemeral, utilizing kitchen materials. But Jensen insists his creation is not a parody. Instead, he was simply attracted to using flashy materials such as color Plexiglas and a wooden disc upon which he affixed an image of lips. In addition, Jensen explained in deadpan, he always hung his series of Sippers three feet above the gallery floor, “because they should be at urinal level.”


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