Alfred Jensen (1903-1981)
Life's Picture History of Western Man
signed, titled, inscribed and dated 'Six panels making up first version of a Life Picture Book sequel Title: "Folios and Pages." Title for V. "Life's Picture History of Western Man." Size 4'-2'' c 6'-4'' by Al Jensen 1959' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
75 7/8 x 50in. (193 x 127cm.)
Painted in 1959
Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner.

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Paola Saracino Fendi
Paola Saracino Fendi

Lot Essay

‘When I write about colour I liken its energies to the discovery of circulations of fluids similar in nature to the study of electricity and magnetism … Perpetually reoccurring is the sequence of systole and diastole ... it mystifies my imagination.’
– Alfred Jensen

Life’s Picture History of Western Man is a typically mesmerising and enigmatic work by Alfred Jensen. Born in Guatemala in 1903, Jensen studied under Hans Hoffman in Germany and later worked with artists including Mark Rothko, Sam Francis, Jean Dubuffet and Joan Miró in the United States. An esoteric and highly respected abstractionist, he was fascinated by systems of number, colour, proportion, calligraphy and time, from Goethe’s Theory of Colours to ancient Mayan hieroglyphics, Pythagorean series, astronomy and the I Ching. The present work, almost two metres in height, displays a vivid checkerboard of bright yellow and red. At the bottom of the composition is a ‘floor’ of compressed squares featuring the additional colours of black, white, blue and purple; rising from it are two further chequered zones filled with these same hues, and set within solid black and white borders. The lower area holds a symmetrical black-and-white pattern amid its brighter colours, and a square of mauve and green anchored at the centre that diverges intriguingly from the rest of the painting’s palette. In the square above, the grid size is divided by four; these smaller chromatic pixels pulsate in an almost Op-Art formation of hypnotic, interacting diamonds. Jensen applied his paint in pure colour, straight out of the tube and spread with a palette knife. Dense as it is with ideas and theories, the work is not an intellectual puzzle: ultimately, Jensen asks paint to be no more than paint, arranging his complex structures like the tiles of a mosaic, and conjuring a rhythmic, captivating symphony of colour and form.

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