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Marcus Jansen's
Street Life

an interview by Monty Montgomery

Marcus Antonius Jansen, recipient of the Alliance for the Arts’ prestigious Angels of the Arts Award for ‘New Artist of the Year’ in 2005, has had quite a year in 2006 as well. In January, the Southwest Florida Museum of History commissioned a special exhibition, ‘Fort Myers – An Urban Perspective,’ his work is on view as part of the Tampa Museum of Arts’ current exhibition, underCURRENT/overVIEW,’ he currently has a show, ‘Voice of a Generation,’ at the American Art Gallery in Paris, and he has been chosen as a finalist in the 12th Annual Biennial Print & Drawing Exhibition at the National Museum of Fine Art in the Republic of China. Jansen is also one of 19 local artists to have work chosen for the permanent collection of the Oasis Towers coming to the riverfront in Fort Myers and will have his first book, a collection of recent works, published by year’s end.

Monty Montgomery spoke with Marcus before the ‘underCURRENT/overVIEW’ show opened in Tampa.

Monty Montgomery: How and when did you first decide to ‘be’ an artist?

Marcus Jansen: I have come to the conclusion that one doesn’t really, actually ‘decide’ that. I believe we are all artists or born with the gift of some sort of art. Keeping in mind that art is expression, art is our individual interpretations of the things that surround us and our interactions and communications with others. As in life, as those personal dimensions becomes clear, we learn something new each day, very often about ourselves.

For example, there were and still are so many turning points in my own career. One, certainly, was meeting my wife before my discharge from the U.S. military and deciding to go from being a Sergeant to working as a professional artist. This was quite difficult. I chose to leave behind hard-earned achievements as well as family-like friends that I had bonded with through good and bad times in exchange for something unknown and what some would probably consider a quite risky business. In the end this was precisely what I needed to experience in order to find faith in what I do and that subsequently helped develop my style of work.

It became more about letting go than being in control. Ford Motor Company’s commission got me national attention and recognition. Not to mention my permanent representation and solely-committed Jansen Gallery in one of the most important artistic cities in the world — Paris, France.

I could go on and on. There was a definite chain of events that turned out to be turning points, including winning the Angel of the Arts Award from the Alliance for the Arts.

What artists have strongly influenced your work?

Initially, the strongest influence was from the streets in New York City itself, where I was born, before moving to Europe. I found it fascinating and moving how the graffiti art movement in the early eighties changed the face of the American urban landscape and how it helped me to see the city itself as a piece of art, each alley telling it’s own story.

Another influence is quite interesting. After I moved to Germany as a child, I was at the ‘Bahnhof’ (train station) one day and ran into a magazine that was golden in color and had the name Rauschenberg on the front. I didn’t know who Rauschenberg was at the time. I was probably around fourteen years old. The cover struck me and I purchased it. I would say that Bob Rauschenberg’s work had quite an impact on me as a teenager. I liked his art language and related to it immediately.

Then later Picasso, Jean Michel Basquiat and Hundertwasser, from Austria, as well as many no-named artists that I have ran into over the years. At this point in my career, I focus on developing my own style and pushing it and concentrate less on what others are doing.

How, when and where do you paint?

I would describe the way I paint as spiritual, raw, fast and spontaneous, coming from the soul — using overlapping surfaces and light effects to add a surrealistic feel to an expressive abstraction. I paint in my garage, which is now my studio at home whenever I have an idea or galleries need new work.

How do you define your artistic ‘style’?

My style of work is a cross of obviously urban elements and a strong expressionistic approach. I have called it Modern Urban Expressionism — a style of work that crosses an old 19th Century expressionism feel with a modern urban graffiti-like impact. This is what I believe has made the work popular. It allows for people from different backgrounds to relate and discuss. Europeans generally think my work is very American and Americans generally think it is very European. That is where I wanted it to be.

What does ‘Urban Expressionism’ mean to you?

My first book/catalogue, which is due for release this year, I believe in August-September 2006, will reveal much of that. So I will keep that question open for the readers. The book contains over 70 works and biographical information as well as a critical essay by Dr. Gerri Reaves, who really managed to articulate my work in words, and a forward introduction by world famous digital artist Laurence Gartel, who has become a friend and mentor for me over the years. He was one of the first to instruct Andy Warhol on computers and went to school with Keith Haring and is also a native of New York City. The book bridges the gap between Urban Art and Expressionism and talks about our cities and their condition in the 21st Century. The book will be available at most online bookstores and at our website: www.marcusjansen.com as well as available through our Galleries in Los Angeles (Lawrence Asher Gallery), Nashville (Gallery One) and Paris (American Art Gallery). If any local bookstores or venues would like to carry it they should get in touch with us at info@marcusjansen.com

How many other artists are ‘Urban Expressionists’?

There is a strong international contemporary art movement of ‘urban influenced art’ taking place today — similar, but with more artists in the limelight this time than the one in the eighties with Basquiat, Keith Haring, etc. The commercial galleries are realizing that there is money to be made with this vibrant and bold voice and the museums see that it draws crowds.

Art News magazine published an in-depth article in their January 2006 issue announcing ‘Urban Art’. It is where the voice of this generation’s attitudes about the new playing fields of our era, whether heard or unheard, is making its ‘artistic, visual debut’. You will find that artists working in this genre have chosen a variety of names to identify their own work.

How is the reality of ‘being an artist’ different from what you had imagined?

Although I was never completely naïve to what it would take, I was not one of those artists that thought one day someone would approach me and say “I will make you famous!”. Ironically, with my agent in Paris, a similar situation has actually happened now in which they are focusing on making ‘Jansen’ a name in France, then Europe. Needless to say, we (my wife and I) have worked ten years going through thick and thin and investing large amounts of money to do so and to make a mark on the market. I was always very aware that it would take a complete dedication and lots of hard work on all fronts in addition to faith, good family, friends and supporters. I could not have done it by myself. I was fortunate to learn what hard work was and what it is like to do some things you really don’t like to do in the military. That also helped.

So, how is your career going?

My career is at its take-off stage, that’s how I would describe it. At 38 years old, as an early-mid-career artist, I am very satisfied with our achievements. Much of my collection is sold within the year of creation and we have a waiting list that I am serving with original work and commissions. I am now internationally recognized and collected, my official media opening in Paris n June introduced me to the European media and public as the American ‘Pope’ of Urban Expressionism.

One must keep everything in perspective. My goal when we started was to be able to live and provide for my wife and kids by doing what I love to do and this is what I achieved. I could not ask for more. Anything from now on is a bonus. It was never about the fame to me. It was about doing work with substance and having more time with my family. There is no greater gift. I think only when one keeps things in the right priority, that is when one sees his own true success.

How much ‘creative inspiration’ vs. ‘hard work’ (administering, organizing, promoting a career, etc.) is required to survive and succeed as a modern artist?

You need an enormous amount of energy. I believe that is the first and main thing you need.

From my experience, to become a financially successful artist one definitely needs to be able to make that switch between ‘creative’ and ‘business’ unless you let someone else take care of the business altogether. I was very determined from the beginning to stay in charge of my work and my career path, which is similar to creating an actual painting. Truthfully, creating your career as an artist can be much more challenging than creating a piece of art. Colleges for art should incorporate art business classes for their students. The art business world and the arts are two entirely different entities. We are still owners of all my work except two works that we selected to get published by a renowned publisher for distribution. We hope to keep it this way.

As President of the American Academy of the Angels of the Arts Awards, I’m personally interested in your reactions to receiving the Angels Award for ‘New Artist of the Year -2005’ and how that may have impacted your career?

I can’t tell you how much I was surprised as well as honored to receive it last year. In my opinion, these kind of awards should be standard for the visual arts, similar to how achievements like the Oscars are to actors.
I commend any organization that puts their time and efforts into something like the Academy to support the arts, in particular the visual arts that is, unfortunately, still underrated when it comes to getting awards and recognition. The American Academy of the Angels of the Arts Awards is making a tremendous difference. For an artist, this speaks volumes on his resume and automatically opens doors that may have been closed before. Galleries as well as museums look at this to consider showing your work.

What personal and professional advice do you have for young, upcoming artists?

We live in the ‘Times for Art’ [see the May 206 cover of Art News magazine]. The scene has never been this potentially successful for young emerging talent. Stay true to your work and be your own voice; the world needs your voice — we have enough imitations out there. Do your homework about the art business first if you intend in any way to be commercially successful. Use the internet while you can for free as a commercial tool for marketing. It works! We make at least 60% of our sales online versus through the galleries.

What else would like to add?

I would like to thank all of our collectors and supporters over the years, particularly here in Fort Myers, for embracing us so quickly into the art scene. It has been a real delight to meet everyone involved in the scene here. It is a really creative town!

Also, the Alliance for the Arts in Fort Myers has scheduled an exhibition of 30 works by myself and artist Joan Brechin Sonnenberg for its September 2006 ‘Urban Expressions’ show. I certainly will be there opening night (September 8) and look forward to greeting many old friends as well as meeting new ones who live in my adopted Lee County home base. •

from the July-August 2006 issue



"Modern Urban Expressionism is a style of work that crosses an old 19th Century expressionism feel with a modern urban graffiti-like impact."

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