LeRoy Jensen, "Quiet Grief," oil on canvas, 1996, 16" x 24"
LEROY JENSEN (1927-2005)
In his figurative drawings and paintings, Salt Spring Island artist LeRoy Jensen expressed a deep capacity for empathy and compassion, an interest in representing the human condition. His artistic process reflects a unique fusion of traditional and modern painterly practices that mix academic techniques with modernist formal ideals. He began each painting with a foundation drawing, then, working from the specific to the general, he added high contrast areas and colour, covering the original drawing in thick, sensuous paint. The final results were spontaneous and direct, but his expressive freedom was built upon a well-defined armature.
Best-known for his earthy figurative gouache and pastel drawings and oil paintings, Jensen was Canadian but lived abroad during the early years of his life. He was raised in China and Japan, and travelled to Europe to study art, attending the Royal Academy in Copenhagen, then training at the Parisian atelier of the cubist painter, Andre L’Hote.
Jensen returned to Canada in 1954, permanently settling in British Columbia, where he taught at the University of British Columbia and The Banff Centre. He exhibited independently and with the Victoria-based Limners group of artists across North America. Jensen moved to Salt Spring with his family in 1982, and became a member of the Alliance of Salt Spring Artists, while committing to a series of progressive social environmental causes, including participation in the anti-logging protests in Vancouver Island’s Carmanah Valley.
Beyond technique, Jensen’s work reveals a tension that is bound up in his sensitive rapport with his subject. This painting, Quiet Grief is an exemplary picture of compassion. The artist often entered into empathic relationships with his sitters, with the goal of capturing the emotion that emerges through the work process. In Quiet Grief, there is a subtlety in the figure-ground relationship, where the body appears to alternately emerge and recede into the background.
The earthy, non-representational colours further signify a timeless relationship between the subject and her surroundings, and give the subject the quality of sculpture. With variations on thick, impasto brushstrokes and loose, calligraphic lines, Jensen channels an emotive rhythm that is simultaneously agitated and impassive. Interacting with his sitter’s personality, Jensen ultimately represents himself in the empathy he projects onto the canvas.
Never interested in indulging in theoretical discussions of his work, Jensen always insisted their meanings were self-evident. “I hope my work shows something because I have put all I am into it,” he said. “I cannot say more.”
— Kimberly Croswell