Christoph Schreier

In the Arena of Pictures: New Paintings by Olav Christopher Jenssen at Galleri Susanne Ottesen, 2022.

(Exhibition text - EN)

Olav Christopher Jenssen, Another Pale Afternoon / The Post-Rubicon Paintings

19 November 2021 – 22 January 2022



Whoever is familiar with the visual art of Christopher Jenssen knows that—in this case as well, exceptions prove the rule—he has a liking for compressed vertical formats. That causes his pictures to seem compact, sometimes almost “chunky” in their overall appearance—like painterly assertions that cannot easily be shoved aside and ignored. Their consistently space-dominating “steadfastness” thereby conforms to an aesthetic logic that becomes apparent to every viewer at a first encounter. Because the compact formats provide a formal counterpole to quite lively, painterly interior worlds that unfold upon the surface of the canvas. Coming to light here are iridescent movements of color, flowing forms and line patterns which are sometimes almost reminiscent of crocheted curtains and whose various motile energies require a counterpoint that is provided by the aforementioned, fundamentally stable pictorial formats. In this sense, Jenssen’s painting can be defined as picture-art that takes its stand with confidence and as a matter of course against the fashionable paradigm of formal unboundedness. Not expansion but concentration is the working principle of this artist, and in this respect his works resemble pointedly expressed “containers” in which he brings to light quite a number of experiences of form and color—or sensations colorantes, as Cézanne would have put it.  A veritable feast for the eyes is offered; nothing is more foreign to Jenssen than the aesthetic anorexia of Conceptualism. Instead his daring showpieces oscillating between dramatic and lyric passages indulge in a maximum of sensuality, even if they are not imbued with anything that is directly carnal—such as is the case, for example, with Lovis Corinth’s lascivious nudes. We accordingly encounter in the exhibition at Galleri Susanne Ottesen unremittingly sumptuous, almost “baroque” pictures in which the processual element has almost completely dissolved the haptic and static aspect of the forms. The eye seldom finds a secure foothold; instead it is summoned to follow the painting’s motile impulses across the entire pictorial surface, all the way to its farthest corners.


This is also true with regard to a still untitled, large-format work from 2021 whose basic red-brown tint is sprinkled with traces of turquoise and overlaid with a web of white lines.[1] This gossamer tissue is “wafted” from the right into the picture and concretizes towards the left into abstract forms of meshing or perhaps blossoms. But these forms are entirely non-material—ephemeral like the ghostly figures in Tintoretto’s Saint Mark’s Body Brought to Venice [2]—, inasmuch as they ultimately depict only the uppermost level of a layered painting that is built up from bottom to top, from dark to bright, and that successively comes to occupy the entire pictorial surface. All in all, the painting presents itself as an irregular, visually almost impenetrable texture of color that Jenssen, who never follows a predetermined plan in his artistic work, has structured as a process of action and reaction. The point of culmination could be said to be a maximum of compositional richness which, in its impact on the viewer, has the both pleasant and unpleasant side-effect of imposing a latent, excessive demand. Because in endeavoring to systematize this extremely variable pictorial manifestation, a viewer’s visual and mental faculties quickly reach their limits—it is definitely not easy to get a grip on this picture …


And that is a good thing! Because the fact is that we move in a world of appearances in which nothing possesses an ultimate validity. Merely a minimal movement of the eyes to the left or to the right, upward or downward allows us to discover further new aspects. Sometimes Jenssen’s visual art resembles the view into a kaleidoscope, with every movement giving rise to new constellations. In his manner of painting, everything accordingly seems to be in a state of coming to be, of becoming—a situation that does not exclude compositional constants, however. Numbering among these, as was stated at the beginning, are the compact pictorial format but also the artist’s work on series of pictures. Jenssen is not a postmodernist trapeze artist who swings flamboyantly from one pictorial idea to another, but instead a thoroughly systematic worker who investigates formal thematic statements as well as constellations of color and form over long periods of time, in richly varied sequences of paintings.


Included in the most recent series of works are also “board-like” landscape formats that were previously not to be found in his oeuvre. They possess a radiant power and atmospheric density in which one could espy an echo of Impressionist painting if not for the vehemence of the brushstrokes, which banishes from the picture all delicacy and pleasantness. For example, a blue-violet painting complemented here and there by shades of olive presents a somewhat concealed structure of both vertical and horizontal brushstrokes—possibly a window motif—that is annulled by a staccato of horizontal brushstrokes.[3] The focus is on the middle of the picture which, in its central function, is both crossed out and extinguished as well as being occupied in painterly terms. The celebration of a painter’s vigorous gesture switches into an attack on the painting; idolatry coalesces with iconoclasm without it being clear which perspective will ultimately gain the upper hand. With Jenssen, the acts of shaping, superimposing, obliterating and destroying often coincide and, in their interplay, produce a formal complexity that is unequalled in contemporary painting. And is it not so that the pictorial art of today is also suffering from a rampant decline in the number of species? So it is all the more lovely—and reassuring—to encounter an oeuvre like that of Olav Christopher Jenssen which, upon every square centimeter of canvas, presents an utter abundance of painterly opulence.



[1] Olav Christopher Jenssen, Another Pale Afternoon / The Post-Rubicon Paintings No. 04, oil on canvas, 195 x 185 cm.

[2] Jacopo Tintoretto, Saint Mark’s Body Brought to Venice, 1562–1566, oil on canvas, 398 x 315 cm, Galleria dell’Accademia, Venice.

[3] Olav Christopher Jenssen, Another Pale Afternoon / The Post-Rubicon Paintings No. 09, oil on canvas, 51 x 86 cm.