Marcus Jansen
In The House

an interview by Andrew Elias

‘General Under
Painterly Review’
from the ‘Faceless’ series
© 2013 Marcus Jansen
IT'S BEEN ALMOST eight years since Marcus Jansen was featured on the cover of our July/August 2006 issue, a year after he received the Angels of the Arts Award for Best New Artist of the Year from the Lee county’s Alliance for the Arts. The Southwest Florida Museum of History had recently commissioned a special exhibition, ‘Fort Myers – An Urban Perspective.’ Jansen, a New York City native and combat veteran, spoke about his work, his gallery and future. [The interview is available in the editorial archives at www.ftmyersmagazine.com.]

What an eight years it’s been for him! Jansen has enjoyed great success and acclaim from curators and art journalists around the world. His paintings are now in the collections of art museums in several states as well as Russia and Taiwan. He has received several prestigious awards and been featured in many group exhibitions in several countries. And although he has had solo exhibitions in London, Paris, Milan, Sao Paulo, Los Angeles, Dallas, Miami, Atlanta, Aspen, Nashville, and Aachen, Germany – as well as Fort Myers and Naples – he will have his very first solo show in New York City in March, at the Castle Fitzjohns Gallery.

Jansen also opened UNIT A, a gallery space showcasing his works, two years ago in March. It is the largest private art space of its kind in Southwest Florida. The Marcus Jansen Studio Headquarters also includes UNIT B, Jansen’s working studio.

As Marcus was preparing for his New York City show, I asked him a few questions about the past few years and future.

Since we last spoke to you you've had great success and worldwide acclaim. What about your work is it that you think is resonating with people across such wide cultural divides?

MARCUS : I would think that some of it is the reflection of my own history. I'm a product of various cultural backgrounds and experiences that have collided growing up. I believe some of that is evident in the work I produce. Also, the topics I painted about then have become global issues, not limited to just any particular group or country.

You've had solo exhibitions in many of the art capitals of the world, but are just now having your first solo exhibit in New York City. What is going through your mind as you prepare the show?

I'm excited to come home to New York. It's a full circle for me having been born in the city and having traveled pretty much all my life. We’re going through the selection of works for that particular show as we speak and there will be a catalog that will be printed with it.

Your art has been labeled as Modern Urban Expressionism. Are you OK with that? Or is there a more accurate or poetic description you prefer?

I personally do not need a title on my or any other work of art. For me, my art is art – and as life, it grows and fluctuates year after year. I don’t particularly like labels on art or people.

It's often called 'expressionism.' What are you hoping to express?

‘Expressionism’ is referring to the artist painting in a manner that reflects his or her own imagination and or feelings. It’s not bound to rules. I always identified with that vocabulary and feel content with it. I express a concentrated reality.

Who were some of your early influences – and what are some of your current inspirations?

Painting itself inspires me, the more I paint the more I get inspired. I study my own paintings after every new series and keep pushing boundaries with new possibilities. Good art is about expressing possibilities, not about a learned skill, talent, feeling, or technique.

Your paintings offer a view of the world that is chaotic and combustible, filled with cubist forms, expressionistic fury, pop-art icons and street graffiti. They’re colorful and comfortable and yet also disturbing and dangerous. Is this the world you see? The world you want us to see?

My works are my instinctive reaction to the world we live in. I am a product of it so I paint what I feel. However, I try to paint it in a way that is dissectible and invites a closer examination. Something that beats the propaganda news we get daily, where there’s no time for examination. I would say the work is contemporary, not futuristic. I want viewers to find what they can see in the work and spend time searching. I have no interest in dictating to people how they should feel about a work of art. Viewing art is a personal experience which is why I don’t write much about my work and let it engage with each viewer in their own way. What’s important is that it arrests the viewer longer than one minute.

Although you're best known for your 'streetscapes,' which are exciting, your portraits are also very impressive and intriguing. To me, they look a bit like what might happen if Francis Bacon and Ralph Steadman collaborated in the 21st century. What are your 'Faceless' series of paintings all about?

The ‘Faceless’ paintings were a departure and more or less of an ‘accidental’ nature, as most of my works are. I was exploring anonymity and where true power lies. Part of the series wound up being collected at the Museum of Contemporary Art PERMM, Russia.

What is your creative process? Do you have a regimented work schedule or driven by spontaneous inspiration? Is it a theme, an image or a message that more often ignites the creative spark?

I work like many people from 9am-5pm and am very organized with my time. I have two young boys to take care of and they need me on weekends. So I generally do not work then. I usually assemble material or references, history, news that catches my attention and process it onto canvas. Usually news that is either under reported or things that are of concern to me or humanity at large is what I like working with.

You've recently begun creating work in 3D as well as painting. What intrigues you about working in 3D? How does your creative process differ?

It seemed natural to go from 2D to 3D works. I would consider it a continuation of what I have been doing only working with different materials. My creative process is the same, however with less research and more direct application.

You began painting as a way to survive your Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder? How did painting help you, personally, cope with your PTSD? How can making art help others with similar injuries, conditions and situations?

I was diagnosed with 10% PTSD in 1992 after my return from the Gulf War. It wasn't much compared to many I know, but I think that painting can be a therapeutic tool for survivors in general and really anyone. It gives you a second way of expressing yourself outside of usual verbal communication.

In March 2012 you opened Unit A, which has been called a 'contemporary art space' and described as a 'studio museum.' Just what is Unit A?

UNIT A Headquarters, serves as the hub and distribution center for my work. I needed more space for my large works and we need to grow our operations. There was more demand and it continues to increase. The second reason was to be able to share work while here with the general public and be independent in doing so. It all worked out very well. We work closely with our partnering Galleries and Museums etc. with shipping works to shows and projects.

You are one of only a handful of artists chosen to design bottles for Absolut Vodka, along with the likes of Andy Warhol, Damien Hurst and Keith Haring. How did that happen?

Absolut Vodka approached me in 2010, then the project started in 2011. The work was painted a day after my wife Michaela passed from cancer. It was used as one of the 18 artists selected for the next Generation of Absolut artist's. The bottle wound up looking like a broken bottle of some sort.

One of your works was chosen for the cover of the Russell Simmons supported book, The Art Album, along with the likes of Chuck Close and Shepard Fairey. You must be very proud of that? How did you get involved in the project?

Dawud Knuckles from Arts On Dekz in New York, a Russell Simmons supported project, contacted me and wanted me in the book. I knew Shepard Fairey, Chuck Close and names like Jonathan Meese were in it. I joined and they placed me on the cover. That was that.

You recently debuted at Art Basil Miami Beach, the biggest and most important art event of the year in America. What was Art Basel like for you?

Yes, we showed at Context Art Miami this year. It was great, it always is. I love the international scene and people from all over the world coming together for art. I love being a part of it each year. I feel very much at home when it happens.

You grew up in New York City and spent time in combat during the first Iraq war and have lived in Europe and Asia. What made you settle in Southwest Florida a decade ago?

I grew up between New York City and Germany. I finished school in Germany and then signed up for the Armed Forces and was immediately deployed to the war with the 18th Airborne of Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Moving here was easy. My parents were here. It had the best weather and beaches, people are nice, all of which I loved. Fort Myers is a special place to me. Its very much home now.

What are your plans for the near future, artistically and personally?

To keep painting and working first and foremost. We are part of a group show at Artis–Naples’ The Baker Museum coming up, the ‘Florida Contemporary’ show. We have museum solo shows in the near future here in the US as well as overseas. In addition, I have a new dealer, Steve Lazarides (Banksy’s first dealer). He started representing me from London. I will have work at Art 14 London at the end of February and just completed a short documentary in Milan, Italy with my gallery Bianca Maria Rizzi & Matthias Ritter to be released in a public and private screening at UNIT A. Personally, I will work a bit more this year and take off for a few weeks for a change and maybe go to Europe for a while and relax for a few weeks.

UNIT A is located at 1922 Evans Avenue in Fort Myers. The gallery is free and open to the public during downtown Fort Myers’ Art Walk the first Friday evening, 6-10pm, of each month, and by appointment weekdays. For information, call 338-8449.

March-April 2014

“I'm a product of various
cultural backgrounds
and experiences that have
collided growing up.
I believe some of that
is evident in the
work I produce.”

© 2013 Marcus Jansen

UNIT A is open to the public
during downtown Fort Myers’
Art Walk, the first Friday
evening of each month.