Critique Collective

Critique Collective is your source for information and interviews about emerging and established contemporary artists.

Tag: fine art

Ivan Jenson Blends Painting and Poetry

Ivan Jenson is a pop art painter and contemporary poet whose artwork was featured in Art in America, Art News, and Interview Magazine while selling at auction at Christie’s. Jenson was commissioned by Absolut Vodka to make a painting titled “Absolut Jenson” for the brand’s national ad campaign, and his “Marlboro Man” was collected by the Philip Morris corporate collection. Jenson was commissioned to paint the final portrait of the late Malcolm Forbes before his death. He also wrote two novels, Dead Artist and Seeing Soriah, both of which illustrate the creative and often dramatic lives of artists. Jenson turned to poetry as an outlet for artistic expression, and he is now a prolific writer who is widely published in a variety of literary media. Jenson’s poems were recently published by Hen House Press in a book titled Media Child and Other Poems, which can be acquired on Amazon.

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Paul Weiner:
Tell us a little about your history as an artist, writer, and poet. What are some of your greatest accomplishments?

Ivan Jenson:
I came from an artistic family in Los Angeles, and we were encouraged to be creative from an early age. I became obsessed with Michelangelo and Renaissance art at around nine years old. I used to check out sixteen millimeter films from the library about Michelangelo and screen them for myself for hours on end. I made a sculpture at age nine in Costa Rica that was used as a poster for a national exhibit. I then discovered Carl Sandburg, Walt Whitman, and Dylan Thomas at thirteen and began to write. I wrote movie reviews for the Valley News and Green Sheet at that age.

Then we moved to Bloomington, Indiana, where I gave some of my early poems to an English teacher in Junior High School, and he read them over the weekend. On Monday, he made a speech to the class and said, “Ivan Jenson is not only a better writer than me or any other teacher in this school, he is also better than any student here because he has something which cannot be taught. He has the gift of a poet.” My early poems where published in magazines in Indiana. I also wrote my first novel at thirteen after a vivid experience of a summer spent studying art in San Jose, Costa Rica. It was a coming of age story called Walking Wounded, and Delacorte Press wrote me that they thought it was “Catcher in the Rye times five.” Other editors said it was, “raw and brutal.” My father gave a few chapters to Ray Bradbury to read, and he sent me a letter which said I wrote better than he did until he was 30.

My family moved to New York city, where I briefly studied at the Art Students League where I was told that the artist’s life is a lonely one. I consider myself self-taught in both art and writing. My big break came when I hung my paintings on paper with paper clips in Times Square and became an overnight success. Everything I made sold instantly and I was able to quit my job as a caterer for weddings and move into Manhattan at age 20. It was perfect timing because I was catching, and riding the crest of, an art wave hitting downtown New York City in the mid 80s.

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My early career was far from lonely. Though I painted for hours alone, as soon as I was done with the paintings, they were trucked off to East Village galleries and all the top night clubs in the City including the famous Palladium, where my art was seen during a Whitney centennial exhibit featuring East Village Artists. Every single painting I have made has sold. Soon after, I was commissioned by Absolut Vodka to create my own Absolut Jenson painting, which was featured full page in Art News, Art in America, Interview, and other top international magazines. I now shared the same ad campaign gig as Andy Warhol. Later, I sold my most expensive painting. It was of the Marlboro Man, and I sold it to Philip Morris. I befriended Malcolm Forbes, and I was invited aboard the famed Forbes Highlander Yacht to draw my trademark pop art portraits of the “Who’s Who” of the corporate world. I painted the last commissioned portrait of Malcolm Forbes.

Fast forward through the nineties. I continued to make my living as an artist, but little did I know I was gathering material for an unexpected literary career that was brewing inside me. I left New York in 2004 after personal and career burnout and found myself feeling lost in Grand Rapids, Michigan. But then, after a year of culture shock from the change to a much slower pace, I joined a writer’s group. At first, I brought in some unfinished fiction, and after receiving great feedback, I quickly made up for lost time and furiously wrote a series of novels as well as poetry. A girlfriend of mine at the time told me my poetry was as good as anything out there, and so, on a whim, I submitted to three magazines. Well, I forgot all about it, thinking it would lead nowhere, until a few weeks later all three poems were accepted for publication with glowing letters from the editors of the magazines. So I submitted more and got accepted again. Within three months, I was already published by some of the top ten online literary magazines in the country. I became addicted to writing poetry and seeing them published. Now, I have two novels published, Dead Artist and Seeing Soriah both published by Hen House Press, New York, close to five hundred poems published, and a book of poems called Media Child and Other Poems soon to be published also by Hen House Press.


Paul Weiner:
Do you see your poetry and painting as being intertwined?

Ivan Jenson:
For me, they are very different. My paintings are all about a mix of classical and contemporary aesthetics, bold line, color, and structural balance. Other more painterly works are all about the romance of painting and its texture. But I can say that my adventures and misadventures as an artist living and working and loving in the trenches of downtown New York City for twenty years has given me an endless gold mine of material for my novels and my poetry. I am including my line drawings in my new book of poems.

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Paul Weiner:
As someone who has experienced the New York art world, do you feel as if New York City is a conducive place for artists to make new work?

Ivan Jenson:
For me, it was. My whole career was born when I first sold my art in Times Square, The Upper West Side, Soho, and Union Square. I got to meet, first hand, all my collectors. The streets were my living, breathing internet, and from all that networking, I met the important lawyers, gallery owners, club owners, and VIP collectors. I think that people still love to purchase a painting from a genuine New York City artist. But now New York is so expensive, I don’t see how an artist starting out could afford the overhead unless that artist had half a dozen roommates. My only roommates were the women who lived with me.

Now, for me, living in Grand Rapids, the internet is my new version of New York. I would say that the internet is now a virtual New York City. Thanks to e-mail, I can submit my poems with ease, and they instantaneously zip over to the literary sites. Then, when my poetry is shared on Twitter and Facebook, it is exposed to thousands of readers. I may not live in New York anymore, but New York lives in me. I still walk fast, and I maintain that driven inner pace, and, when I am working, I write often to the beat of Electronica music. And yet, living away from New York City has given me perspective on that seductively fast lifestyle, and coming from New York City has given me perspective on the wonderful subtleties of the Midwest. My novels, Seeing Soriah and Dead Artist, both take place in a fictional city called Gold Haven, Michigan, and key scenes take place in New York City.

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Paul Weiner:
You mentioned that a lot of your material comes from your time as an artist in New York City. What are some other common themes that show up in your poetry throughout Media Child and Other Poems?

Ivan Jenson:
My debut poetry book is a comprehensive collection of my poems written over the last four and a half years when this whole magical renewal of my creative life began. It was all so new and exciting, yet the words and the images fell right into place with immediacy and ease. Nothing was forced; it all just flowed. Every day was a new discovery of what was possible for me in poetry. I dedicated myself to writing at least a poem a day and then reading them aloud to my writer’s group and then unabashedly sending them off. It was a formula that worked famously and which I enjoyed immensely. Some of the poems in my book are autobiographical flashbacks to my East Village days. Through my poetry, I was to find form and meaning behind my former fast-paced lifestyle. It was not long into my newfound poetry career that wordplay appeared in my poems.

Now, I am a quick study, and once I realized I was onto something unexpected and wonderful, I grew in leaps and bounds. There was a phenomena going on both inside and outside of me. Here I was, drawing from my experience, my neurosis, my heartache, my highs and lows, and yet I was treating them with a lightness of touch and never forgot to add wit and universal punch lines to the mix. As I read aloud my poems at my writer’s group I learned that there was power in my knack for humor. Then I began to spin on common phrases, colloquialisms, clichés, and I soon drew from the media as well. Next came a cast of characters including celebrities or brand names, TV shows from Gilligan’s Island to Star Trek, and public figures from Jung to Joan Rivers and Chaplin. They just all showed up unannounced in my stanzas like a profound parade of self-styled product placement. I went as far as to title one of my most popular poems “Name Dropping.”

My poems are designed to work on the page as well as live, and I treated my writer’s group as a training ground for how to act out and really sell my poems in performance. And, soon enough, I was invited to perform them at theaters, bookstore poetry readings, or at the fancy homes of the “Who’s Who” of Grand Rapids. I was always pleased to get laughter right on cue where I wanted it, as if I were a stand up comic. And yet, through the laughter, I knew that the deeper meanings were still coming through. Not only do I make sure my poems open up with a hook, but then I take the reader or listener on a visceral ride and a public display of my deepest fears, phobias, and foibles in a metaphorical mash up with movie stars, literary icons, historic figures, and late night talk show hosts. Then I keep juggling on those phrases we have heard all our lives, and yet I give them new and sometimes twisted twists.

I never knew I had this treasure trove of verbal Americana stowed up inside of me. And yet it all channels through me, with a detailed structure, polyrhythm, sometimes multiple inner rhymes. Some poems are like monologues spoken by characters in a play or a scene from Film Noir. Others are snapshot memories, and others are like short films. My poems have been turned into short films by a talented filmmaker named Cassidy Bisher. He is currently adapting a poem I wrote especially for his production company. Its theme is nostalgia and the passage of time. The film will feature time lapse photography set against the spoken words of my poem. Obviously, this is a dream come true to see my poetry become cinema.

Note To Self a poem by Ivan Jenson

The Way It Should Be a poem by Ivan Jenson

Midwest Juliet a poem by Ivan Jenson

Paul Weiner:
Has your painting style changed at all since you made the move to Michigan?

Ivan Jenson:
Since I moved to Michigan, my paintings have become so much more complex. When I depict van Gogh, as I often do, the paintings have become mosaics, puzzles of color where each color contrasts or has to answer to the color next to it. I am in as good form as ever here in Michigan as I was in my studio in New York City. I turn on urban R and B music, and I fall into cadence with my colors. My Michigan studio is quite big, and I can make a nine foot by nine foot paintings and feel myself engulfed in the vastness of the canvas. When I take a break and turn the music off, I hear the crickets and the birds at night, and then I carry my bucket of brushes through the backyard in the night with the moon shining, and I feel like the expatriate artist, like Gauguin who has found a slice of paradise far from the chiseled edges and the blazingly bright video advertisements of Times Square.


Paul Weiner:
I like the idea of the internet being a virtual New York City. What are a few of your favorite web sites that have helped you use the internet to make your work public?

Ivan Jenson:
I have to be frank with you here and say that each morning, when I approach my computer screen with a cup of Starbucks in hand and just the right music playing on iTunes, I am truly reaching through the screen and grasping digital opportunities by the dozen. Google is my tool, and my hard drive is the fire of my inner drive which has never burned out. I am not at liberty to give out my self-styled, highly secretive, and self-developed tricks of the internet trade. But I will be candid and say that my transformation into a writer did not happen by accident.

I do not follow the usual format of submission. If there are standard systems or rules out there on How to Become a Published Author or Poet, well, then I have broken them all. Some of my poems have even been published in multiple publications. But I have never heard of a poet being put to jail for that free-verse transgression. I learned early that I must not only be a fountain of creativity, but that I have to also be a viral, guerrilla marketing maven as well. Usually, getting hyped up on caffeine and diet Coke makes me so ambitious that the pupils of my eyes dilate behind my glasses and I simply will it all to happen.

I admit I am addicted to getting e-mails of acceptance letters from publishers, literary magazines, filmmakers, ect, but to get that I must cast my net on the internet. My confidence comes from knowing that my angst and my ecstasy of words is loved and appreciated by the public and by the always wonderful embrace of literary circles. I am eternally grateful to the editors of online and print magazines and anthologies who have been so generous and receptive of my works from day one. For a creative person, knowing that you have something special is not enough; you must show the world your poems, your novels, your paintings, your sculptures, your quips, your funny asides, your best tragic mask, your pointed dress shoes and observations, your new pair of New Balance shoes, your trendy five o’clock stubble, your smile. And then you must wait, and if you are lucky, the world will answer back with an astounding, “Yes!”

“Name Dropping”

I am trying to be Gandhi about this
But sometimes you make me so Mussolini
You think you are so very Jesus
But really you are much more Britney
Than Mother Teresa
Sure you Isadora Duncan into a room
With your Betty Davis lies
And you expect me to
Cyrano De Bergerac
You on the phone
Or Shakespeare up my e-mails
But I’m just John Doe
I’m no James Dean or Citizen Kane
The point is I want to be
Romeo to your Juliet
I want us to John and Yoko till the end
I want our children to
Be Mickey Rooney and Shirley Temple
In the afternoons
I want them to be Dorothy and Toto
Near a rainbow
I want to be Mr. Brady
and you to be mother Maude
And though I’m no Tiger or Agassi
I still want my boys to be
little Eli Mannings
and the girls will be so Serena or Venus
Look I’ll never be a Bill Gates provider
and you’re no Keira Knightley in our quick-snaps
But still, when I see you I want to
Larry King you with questions
and Oprah you with compassion
We used to be so Brad and Angelina
But now we’ve become so Limbaugh and Obama
Guess it will be this way
until we are old and Castro gray


Paul Weiner:
Is Vincent van Gogh an inspiration for you? Which artists and poets have influenced your work the most over the years?

Ivan Jenson:
Van Gogh is both an inspiration and a concern of mine. I first discovered van Gogh in a calendar in an elementary school classroom, and his vivid yellows and oranges, his use of thick paint seemed to be beckoning to only me. The childlike naiveté and the intensity of his works spoke to me. Van Gogh is a contemporary character along with Picasso in my novel, Dead Artist. In the novel, the artist protagonist, Milo Sonas, sees dead artists. He gets supernatual visitations from these two artists. Each artist represents a different spectrum of artistic recognition. Here we have Picasso, millionaire, South of France mansion owner, and a life filled with societal accolades and many younger wives and sensual mistresses, and then we have the troubled legend of van Gogh, loner, misunderstood, mad, loveless and an artist who never sold a single painting. In my novel, Dead Artist, I even the score and Van Gogh gets a second chance in the modern world when a young college coed sets van Gogh up with her best friend, a girl who is a van Gogh fanatic, who becomes the love of Vincent’s afterlife. In my novel, van Gogh finds love, and he gets to watch from another dimension as his paintings sell for astronomical figures. This is my artistic and poetic justice.

My foremost influence has always been Picasso. I was fascinated by him as a teen, and it was a thrill to know in the 70s that he was living and painting in sandals, shorts and fedora hats in the South of France. Here was a man who could have traveled or lived a life of luxurious leisure, but, instead, he chose to burn the midnight oil of his talent by painting all night long. He chose to spend a lion’s share of his ferocious ability exploring the safari of his artistic abilities alone in his studio. From an early age, I acquired this sort of prolific work ethic. On Mondays in New York City, I would always ritualistically begin a new series of paintings. As for poetry, I have loved Richard Brautigan for his whimsy. I loved Dylan Thoma’s rich Welch delivery of his poetry. And I loved how Walt Whitman stole from the Bible the many wonders of using the word “and”. I am not too proud to proclaim that I was infatuated with the melancholic and sometimes sentimental spell that Rod Mckuen had over the publishing world in the 70s. I let that dream go when I became an artist, but, as fate would have it, I was to become a poet after all.

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Paul Weiner:
Visual artists are always trying to find innovative ways of working. Today, many new media artists have taken to the web as an opportunity to program web sites that function as artwork. As someone who avidly uses the internet as a powerful marketing tool, do you think the internet is also a potential medium for the creation of visual art?

Ivan Jenson:
People today fall in love because of dating web sites; friends who have lost touch are virtual friends again because of Facebook, and so on. I hear all the time of artists using programs to paint. As a messy artist who lived in an apartment that was splattered with Jackson Pollock drips of color wherever you looked, I will be the first in line to work with virtual art supplies that don’t make a mess. And, of course electronic brushes that don’t have to be washed would be wonderful. Yet, as an artist with one foot in the 20th and the other in the 21st Century, I will always pour out my paint on plates and paint on canvas, if only to keep my spiritual connection with Vincent and Pablo alive. Who knows, maybe one day I will paint on my Mac and e-mail the file to multiple galleries in Paris, London and New York who will then display my art on sleekly framed canvas simulating monitors. And I will appear at the opening night of my international solo exhibits as a hologram of an artist with a glass of Chardonnay in his hand.

Please view Ivan Jenson’s work on his website and “like” Critique Collective on Facebook at

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Personifying Color with Moisés Aragon

Moisés Aragon is a multimedia artist born in the USA who identifies as a Cuban because of his undocumented status and family history. His artwork explores his personal identity as it relates to his Cuban heritage while also personifying colors with the guidance of color theory. His work can be found online at

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Paul Weiner:
Could you describe why you’ve gotten into making artwork that relates to Cuba?

Moisés Aragon:
To some extent, the entirety of my body of work relates to Cuba. It’s technically my native land. My family is from that great Antilles, so my bloodline resonates. I do remember the natural feeling of being cuban since childhood, and I’ve kept that identity ever since.

When I started with what would become my art career at the age of 8, my thought process of leaving a legacy of art was not of being a U.S. artist but a Cuban artist – somewhat rhetorical for an 8 year old, huh? It wasn’t until adulthood, 19, that my work truly reflected an intentional reflection of the nationality that I’ve always identified with. Withholding irony, this transition coincided with being shortly before my first visit to my country.

While on the island, I produced a brief series comprising of rubbled, corrugated sheet metal onto which I was painting with the now-faded characters of the P.Y.AL series including green and something else I can’t remember. Producing that series most definitely laid the foundation for the current incarnation of P.Y.AL. Aside from the P.Y.AL series, I’m currently focusing on quasi docu-style photography/video work, a mix between candid, surrealist, and architectural work.

The next transition is producing art, tangible or otherwise, in my country and having that work become part of the legacy in progress.

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Paul Weiner:
Explain the idea behind your P.Y.AL Series.

Moisés Aragon:
The current form of the series started in Chicago, circa 2009. At the time, the series itself was in purely abstract/conceptualist form with a strong emphasis on color theory and the relationship between Pink, Yellow and Autumn Leaves & Red and Payne’s Grey (occasionally brown and green). I had been developing the series for 10 years prior, so it felt right to transition to something explicitly figurative and to explore another relationship. This time it was between traditional media and technology. I have since embraced what I view as a concise merger between traditionalism in art and being a contemporary artist in the 21 century.

I decided to incorporate traits of myself onto each figure, and, as a trio, they do indeed encompass the artist as a whole. My love of nature, relationship with plants, and yearning to have my own garden are embodied in Yellow’s weaponry, a young avocado tree in a planter. Autumn Leaves’s needs to care for his companions during battle with no remorse for personal consequences is a trait that I certainly have with my companions. And Pink, well, Pink is an amalgamation of fantastical factions and the attribution there of but with a not-so-obvious conscious understanding of the reality surrounding him.

This series, in its current and past incarnations, offers the viewers or patrons a chance to understand intimately the psychology of the author of each painting, drawing or video.

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Paul Weiner:
Given your legal status, have you found that people in the art world discriminate against you or your artwork in any way?

Moisés Aragon:
Yes, absolutely. One of the major misconception about the self-taught artist is that any work produced by one isn’t refined or it’s not art because it can’t be justified without a BFA/MFA. How can I put this? Creating art is nonsense. Drawing a twi inch line and nothing else on a piece of paper could be and, for the sake of argument, is an exhaustive and satisfying effort. But it’s just a line. However, having a BFA/MFA facilitates doors being opened for networking opportunities, and, in turn, that line on a piece of paper has a 100% chance of, at the very least, getting exposure in a gallery.

Another issue that comes with being undocumented is that you are susceptible to having your work stolen and plagiarized. This has happened to me on more than one occasion. I’ve had gallerists, peers, and close friends who are getting decent exposure steal from me with their justification being, “well, he’s a nobody, so it doesn’t matter.” I mean it’s great that my work is good enough to be stolen, but it’s hard not being able to recover copyrights and lost profits.

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Paul Weiner:
Do you view your work as being conceptual?

Moisés Aragon:
I definitely have conceptual pieces in my portfolio, but, as a whole, I wouldn’t say that what I produce is solely conceptual.

Paul Weiner:
What art medium is your favorite to work with?

Moisés Aragon:
To be honest, I don’t have a favorite medium. Budget is a major factor that dictates how my work gets executed. The series itself, P.Y.AL, is ever-evolving from medias to dimensional incorporation, augmented reality, to concept.

Paul Weiner:
Could you explain your process for making video art?

Moisés Aragon:
I’ve only recently started to execute video art as an extension to my P.Y.AL series and for Cuba-related work. Video work that is specific to a series is more or less researched and planned out in tandem to 2-dimensional work. For example, the 2-D side of the P.Y.AL series showcases vignettes of battles and fighting scene between the protagonists and the antagonists – Pink, Yellow and Autumn Leaves versus Red and Payne’s Grey, respectively. The live-action side of that series, video work, emphasizes the down-time or, rather, what happens between battles and conflicts. In one video, I have Pink wandering through an abandoned warehouse or factory searching, exploring, reminiscing, and lamenting the moment after a battle. Currently, I’m focusing more on creating a sustainable amount of shorts that would explain the characters’ poses, fighting or otherwise, seen on paintings and drawings.

Please view Moisés Aragon’s work at and “like” Critique Collective on Facebook at

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Jeffrey Thompson’s Patterned Abstract Paintings and the Wonder of Mathematical Systems

Jeffrey Thompson is a painter from San Francisco who relies on a mathematical, grid-based concept in order to develop abstract paintings. Recently, Thompson has exhibited his work at the University of Southern Oregon and in the SF Weekly for their “Masterminds 2013.” His art is available online at


Untitled | Linear Grid 1

Paul Weiner:
How do you usually begin a painting? I’d like to hear about how you plan (or don’t plan), develop concepts, and engage in problem solving.

Jeffrey Thompson:
Ideally, each painting informs the next, so I usually begin the process by reviewing any relevant past work. At the outset, I make some general decisions about the way forward. I decide, for example, whether the new work will try to expand on any previous effort, or explore different territory. If the surface I’m planning to work on has a predominant characteristic, horizontal or vertical, I decide how to treat it in the composition. That is, I decide whether to employ it, or to somehow defeat it.

When I begin to attack the canvas, the process is largely mathematical. First, I determine the basic interval upon which the surface is based. For example, a 30″ x 30″ surface would likely use a 3″ basic unit. I then break down the composition based on those dimensions. I may then further divide the surface into smaller regions or grids. When establishing the drawing, I’m typically trying to emphasize the relationship between the painting surface and the layout.

At the point when I have the drawing in place, I make some fundamental choices about mediums, color, and content to cover everything from paint to the source materials I’ll be using in the collage. These collage elements are critical, as they determine a great deal about the overall impact of the piece. Newsprint carries a lot of populist imagery that, when broken down, becomes increasingly ambiguous. I find this desirable up to a point. Through experience, I’ve discovered that, if these materials are broken down too far, all meaning is obliterated. If not far enough, they seem to endorse more than is necessary.

I should note that I’m not after a specific message here. Rather, I’m trying to incorporate elements of the culture as a whole. Ironically, my objective is not unlike a good newspaper. I see myself as a kind of visual editor seeking an objective and balanced overview.

In contrast to newsprint, I sometimes opt for finer, clay-based papers in the collage, which typically come from fine art magazines or professional journals. These materials emphasize subtle color and advanced typography, and when using them, I focus on those elements.

I spent much of the past twenty years working with type and color as a graphics specialist and journeyman lithographer. My career in design and printing influenced my interest in graphic or text-based imagery and also financed my work in fine art.

I most often work with a combination of acrylic, oil, and enamel paints. I layer the acrylic paint first, with the solvent-based paints on top, in order to create a more or less stable paint structure. These paints are used out of the container in an unaltered state, although I do mix for color. I apply the paint directly, frequently manipulating it with pallet knives, spatulas, and other tools, rather than relying on brushes exclusively. The paint is alternately removed, sanded, or reduced and reapplied until it achieves sufficient density and form.

While the work is underway, I often photograph it in order to make decisions about direction, proportions, content, etc. When problem solving, I will use whatever tools are readily available, or most appropriate. This includes everything from mirrors to Photoshop. My only rule when using these tools is not to rely on any one of them too much. In order to see the work objectively, I will also hide it, turn it to face the wall for a period of time, or simply look at it upside down to take it out of normal context.

The final step is, of course, finishing the work. This is often the most subjective part of the process. It involves deciding that some or all of my original goals have been met, and that what has been achieved cannot be taken much further without losing what has been gained. It may also include approving any discoveries I may have made along the way. I will almost always embrace a positive random occurrence or other happy accidents.



Paul Weiner:
Since your process relies on a mathematical process based on the surface you’re working on, how do you think it would change if you were to paint on a non-rectangular surface?

Jeffrey Thompson:
I have occasionally worked with random shapes when I come across what I call found surfaces. This has led to some interesting adjustments, but, in terms of an intentionally irregular or curved surface, I don’t think much would change. A two-dimensional grid can be applied to any non-linear shape. Even an irregular cloud like mass can be mapped and diagramed.

I will admit that type of presentation is less appealing to me. I don’t, however, think this is simply bias. I believe that the rectangular format is somehow intrinsic to the way we think about things visually. A theatre uses a linear proscenium; televisions are linear; and even books are rectangular. Some of that is a by-product of technology and tradition, but I think some of it is hard-wired in us.



Paul Weiner:
What is the ideal forum for displaying your artwork? Do you prefer it in a commercial gallery, museum, public space, or other art space?

Jeffrey Thompson:
The ideal environment for this work would, in my opinion, be a permanent installation that would be site-specific. I have envisioned the work, especially the horizontal abstractions, in some sort of fixed setting along the lines of a viewing chapel or chamber, where the experience could be fully integrated. These paintings seem to thrive in intimate spaces and often take on unique and personal narratives and associations within this type of space.

That being said, I have found that work from this series seems to adapt well to most environments. I have shown the work in spaces that range from intimate local galleries in San Francisco’s Mission District to large academic environments such as the one at Southern Oregon University. In each, the work takes on a unique and compelling personality. In the case of a recent commission, the work seemed to transform before my eyes after being installed. As comfortably as it fit in the studio, it seemed equally at home in its intended environment. I think because the work is essentially geometric in nature, it not only echoes the surface on which it lives, it also naturally embraces and compliments the architecture of the room in which it is hung.


Ulysses | Linear Grid 2

Paul Weiner:
How did you happen upon the striping and grid formats that are prevalent in your recent works?

Jeffrey Thompson:
This format evolved out of a combination of early influences from art school and my professional exposure to commercial graphic design standards. While studying lithography and etching under Kenji Nanao and Misch Kohn, respectively, at Cal State – Hayward, I became aware of the significance of the grid as an integral, albeit silent, partner in the printmaking process. Everything involved in the planning of a print, or painting for that matter, relies upon and is constrained by the essentially rectangular format of the process. This encompasses every aspect, from the paper to the press itself. The vast majority of litho stones and most etching plates echo this format, and, so, the planning involved in printmaking necessarily becomes an extension of that underlying geometry.

When my career extended itself into the commercial environment, this relationship only grew. Everything produced in a commercial print shop relies heavily on the geometry of the press and, by extension, the grid. Later on, as commercial lithography came to rely almost entirely on computer-generated graphics, the underlying grid became more and more significant. This is especially true in print design for publication, where every square inch or millimeter has a defined value, both literally and figuratively. A full page ad in the New York Times is valuable real estate, and the designs created for that environment are necessarily based on columns and margins, which are themselves based on the underlying grid.

Eventually, I took this fundamental premise and adopted it as the basis for a series of paper collages. This soon expanded to larger and larger paintings. There was something compelling and universal about the structure, and I quickly discovered that the potential for variations on this theme were numerous.



Paul Weiner:
Would you consider your work as expressionist, purely aesthetic, conceptual, or something else?

Jeffrey Thompson:
This is probably the hardest question to answer, and I would gently resist any temptation to put a definite name on my work. I suppose it would be ideal if others cared enough about my work to decide that for themselves. Frank Stella, whose early black, linear paintings were a big inspiration to me, considered his work to be minimalist and post-painterly abstractions. I, of course, would be thrilled to have my work associated with either of these disciplines although, technically, I lean towards a more painterly approach.

However, I believe what truly defined Stella’s work was his ability to reinvent himself and his paintings throughout his career, thus defying a strict classification. My greatest desire would be to emulate that ability, to continue to grow my work and reinvent my process over time. However, if pressed, I would say that I am generally an abstract painter who leans heavily on aesthetics, conceptualism, and expression, not necessarily in that order.

Please view Jeffrey Thompson’s artwork online at and “like” Critique Collective on Facebook at

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Jonathan Wright’s Dynamic Painting Exploration

Jonathan “Jono” Wright is a figurative and abstract painter living in Denver, Colorado. He holds a BFA from the Metropolitan State University of Denver and has also studied painting at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, the Boulder Academy of Fine Arts, and the Studio Art Center International in Florence, Italy. Jonathan’s work is available online at

Paul Weiner:
What are you currently working on?

Jonathan Wright:
Currently, I’m working on a collection of abstract pieces that are 12”x15” for a boutique called Moxie. I’m really excited about this project, as there is a sense of collaboration with fashion, something from which I find a lot of inspiration. Hopefully I’ll be able to strike a balance between true aesthetic exploration and commercial viability.

Paul Weiner:
Since you’ve studied art at various programs in Boulder, Denver, Philadelphia, and abroad, which of these experiences has shaped your artwork the most?

Jonathan Wright:
It’s hard to say which educational experience has shaped my practice the most, as they all play a part in my current approach. For example, my early interest in graffiti and the training that I got as a teenager from Elvie Davis gave me a real appreciation for drawing and having a sense of attention and elegance to line quality. The training I got in Phillly gave me an introduction into how to paint the figure and how to mix colors. What I got from Metro was a sense of approaching art making in an elemental way such as line, volume, composition, focal point and so on.

Having all these different experiences presents me with the challenge of unifying my vision, which is something I’m learning about right now in my practice. I feel like I have a good technical foundation and a decent level of skill, so the question that is in front of me now is what do I really want to paint. What really turns me on? Also, what is commercially viable? So there’s a balance that has yet to be found.

Paul Weiner:
As an emerging artist, would you say that you feel limited or not by the commercial art market? Do you feel that the commercial level of art gets in the way of your attempt to unify your work in the way you would like to?

Jonathan Wright:
I would say that I feel influenced by considering the retail viability of my artistic ideas. Sometimes I make work that I strongly intend on selling, such as still-lifes or landscapes, while other times I make work that is focused on exploring something just for my own enjoyment.

What I’m finding about Denver is that it seems to be a market where you have to ride the razor’s edge of producing work that is decorative enough so people feel comfortable hanging it over their couch while simultaneously being edgy enough that it still has a spark of authentic exploration. That’s a tough road to navigate. Sometimes this dynamic feels limiting, but it can also feel like an interesting challenge. It really depends on where you want to take your career. If you want to be really avant-garde than your retail viability will probably be minimal, so you make your living doing something else. I suppose I’m trying to ride that razor’s edge of selling interesting and beautiful work.

To answer your question about unifying my work I would say that yes, this dynamic does make it hard to find unity. It takes a while to sort through all the educational influences and all the art market influences to come up with something I truly want to focus on that’s also commercially viable. But I feel ok with that. I think that’s what a true artist has to cope with.

8 vision outside of the oasis Niya, 2012, acrylic on paper, 36x48

9 loulan, 2012, acrylic on paper, 36x48

Paul Weiner:
Take us through your process for starting a new painting and developing a concept.

Jonathan Wright:
My process begins with an aesthetic impulse like a color or a form. It can come from nature or other art, such as painting or dance, something I’ve sketched in my book, or maybe something I’ve seen on the street. Oftentimes I find inspiration from fashion or textiles.

One thing I think is interesting is when multiple artists begin putting out similar aesthetics independently, as if they are responding to a similar impulse floating around in the culture that they then explore independently of each other.

But back to me. I begin with an impulse and sketch it out. However, my process and interests are kind of bipolar at this point. Sometimes I like to hone my skills and make highly realistic work, while at other times I’m interested in exploring something non-objective. Thus, depending on what I feel like making, whether it’s realistic or non-objective, my approach is quite different.

If I’m going to paint something realistic, I’ll use Photoshop to collage an image from which to reference. Then I begin the classical process of painting with oils, starting with an underpainting and continuing with opaque layers of paint. If I’m interested in exploring something non-objective I like to use acrylic on paper. With this approach, the medium is really forgiving, and I can edit, destroy, and create as I go along.

In all honesty, I find the non-objective approach more interesting as far as process goes because there is more that is unknown and more to discover. However, I still really like the results I can get when painting realistically. So one of my long-term problems, and remember it’s the problems that keep us going, is to get comfortable enough with my figure painting that I can incorporate the destroying/creating dynamic into that process. Artists like Alex Kanevsky, Kent Williams and a host of others are inspiring to me in this vein.

As far as “concept” goes, that term is something that I find terribly inadequate to describe the nuances of what visual art communicates. Painting especially is incongruous to this notion. The information that develops in a painting during its creation comes from the merging of the physical world of the materials and the subjective world of the artist.  During this process, one has to let go of expectations and conceptual rigidity. Some initial impulse to create is needed, which could be conceptual, but you have to release your expectations and just let go at some point. In my opinion, art is most interesting when it presents something fresh and unknown, which is kind of antithetical to conceptual art.

the lake 5

the lake 4

the lake 3

the lake 4

the lake 5

Paul Weiner:
I like the idea of bringing abstraction and figure together for the sake of dynamism. To that extent, how do you feel about Anselm Kiefer’s way of melding expression and figurative art?

Jonathan Wright:
Although I haven’t studied Anselm Kiefer a lot, I would say that he is fairly post-modern in that he is drawing from representational painting and sculpture in a way that activates their culturally collected meanings. He utilizes that history and then adds some expressionism into the mix. And he is successful with that mixture. It’s been a while since I’ve seen one of his works in person, which I expect is more impactful than on the page or online, but I believe it must deliver quite an impression. But, in speaking to the representational/non-objective dynamic, I think it’s a really vibrant solution to the legacy of Abstract Expressionism, which kind of became too subjective, too limited.

There’s a long history at this point of artists negotiating this terrain, from Willem de Kooning, Diebenkorn, and Neri to contemporary masters like Sangram Majumdar, who totally blows my mind. In the case of Majumdar, he transcends representation by dancing with materiality, illusion, and, most important of all, spontaneity. It’s his ability to include it all, so to speak, that’s so interesting. He harmonizes  the result oriented approach of realism with the subjective spontaneity of Abstract Expressionism.

Another aspect that I see within this dynamic of what we could call form and formlessness is that it speaks to the transience or impermanence of our time. On the one hand, there is a lot of fragmentation going on in the collective psyche and on the other, we see that nothing lasts forever, which is a very Buddhist point of view. It’s a tumultuous time, which is being reflected in this aesthetic device.

6 record keeping 3, 2012, oil on paper, 9x9

7 record keeping 2, 2012, oil on paper, 9x9

Paul Weiner:
What do you find most appealing and most frustrating about the Denver art scene?

Jonathan Wright:
I think Denver has a specific flavor of energy that is unique and interesting. I’m not sure if I can really articulate it, but is has everything to do with geography and history. It’s dry and dirty and a bit outlawish. This is Denver’s strength, but I don’t think it can ever be pinned down.

That being said the art culture here can definitely feel out-of-touch and a bit late on the scene. Denver is kind of catching on to the ideas that originated in the big art centers five years prior. This, in my opinion, gives no one in this town the right to be snobby or exclusive because the people running the show here aren’t all that tapped in anyways. So Denver’s isolation is a strength and a weakness. It’s got an underdog vibe, which is invigorating, but also an air of exclusivity based on insecurity. Take it or leave it, I guess. Overall, it does provide a good emerging art scene, someplace to get your feet wet and perhaps continue to show even after one is more established.

It’s great. It’s home.

Paul Weiner:
You mentioned how Denver is a great place to get your feet wet, which makes plenty of sense. Are you considering making a move to a larger art market like New York or LA at some point?

Jonathan Wright:
At some point, I think it’s inevitable if you want to keep going with your art, as I do, to make that move. Some artists have stayed in Denver and have made a good name for themselves; maybe Phil Bender would be an example. But, yes, I would like to make a move to the West Coast within a year or so. Like New York, there’s a lot of great figurative work going on in LA and other styles of painting as well.

This whole thing has a lot to do with money. There’s simply more money in LA or San Francisco, perhaps also a more sophisticated market, not to mention a more diverse demographic. That equals a more vibrant and commercially viable art scene. I’m excited

to get a few more exhibitions under my belt and to develop a stronger artistic identity before I make the move. That being said, I would never turn my back on the community here in Denver. I’d still love to show here if the opportunity were to arise.

Please view Jonathan Wright’s artwork online at and like Critique Collective on Facebook at

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Simone Rene’s Patterns and Fabric Collage

Simone Rene is a fabric collage artist from Brooklyn, New York who holds a BFA in Illustration from the School of Visual Arts. Her artwork is available online at

11.75"x16", cloth

City Background B5, 11.75″x16″, cloth

Paul Weiner:
When did you decide to begin with the medium of fabric collage?

Simone Rene:
I began working in it about 4-5 years ago. At the time I was doing some mixed-media pieces, paint/graphite/paper/found objects and making clothing, but I couldn’t commit to either because I was torn between my love of fabric and making visuals. I was making a quilt for my nephew, one of my first. It had figures of cute monsters and their toys on it. As I was cutting, positioning, and sewing, the direction I wanted to go in suddenly dawned on me – I know, I know – Duh.

Paul Weiner:
Having studied illustration at the School of Visual Arts, do you see that impacting your style today?

Simone Rene:
I have always loved the figure, and it is pretty central in most of my work. I studied Fashion Illustration in high school and took it at SVA. I think that I am prone to elongating and manipulating the figure to sell the story much the same way fashion illustrators do in order to sell clothing.

The Ancestors A1, 10"x31", cloth

The Ancestors A1, 10″x31″, cloth

Paul Weiner:
The idea of selling a story is interesting, and I can certainly see how fashion is incorporated in your work. So, as far as stories go, do you read your artwork as a narrative?

Simone Rene:
I think of my images as grasping at just a phrase pulled from a whole story, and for me that is where the emotion is.

Paul Weiner:
How do you start one of your fabric collages? It must be tough determining which fabric to use.

Simone Rene:
Usually my concept begins with a thought, words followed by a visual that is accompanied by color. Sometimes I just find a piece of fabric that wants to be something. After I have the concept, I sort through my large fabric collection and go on hunts, both new and used, for just the right fabrics. Once I have the dominant fabric color or pattern, things seem to fall into place. I experiment with combinations and sometimes make variations of the same image. It may take a while, and I may have to return to that image over and over again while I work on other pieces, but it’s ok because art is about exploration.

The Ancestors A5, 12"x31.5", cloth

The Ancestors A5, 12″x31.5″, cloth

Paul Weiner:
Is there a particular color or pattern that has intrigued you?

Simone Rene:
I find myself drawn to black and white patterns, cerulean blues, fuchsia pinks, and flesh tones that are cool – not really into the warm autumn colors.

City Background B3, 15"x27", cloth

City Background B3, 15″x27″, cloth

City Background B1, 17"x21.5", cloth

City Background B1, 17″x21.5″, cloth

Paul Weiner:
You’ve mentioned that your family has resided in Brooklyn since the late 1700s. Could you talk specifically about your “City Background” work and how that relates to your own identity?

Simone Rene:
I grew up embedded in family and surrounded by generations of relatives, both by blood and marriage. We were American, we were New Yorkers, and we were Brooklynites.

When I was little, I don’t ever recall wondering who or what we were. I thought that the diversity of my family was normal. It wasn’t until I began middle school and began to be asked to define myself by ticking off a box that I began to consider “What was I?” note not “Who I was.” It was confusing and disheartening to be asked to define myself and by doing so chance wiping away generations of ancestors that may not be stereotypically present in face or person. It made me a bit of a rebel. I checked all the boxes and when called upon could defend that choice because I knew my family’s stories and history.

I think being generations in the city allowed for the ambiguity that did define my family and I. It allows me to explore aspects of my history with familiarity as well as distance.

Please view Simone Rene’s artwork online at and “like” Critique Collective on Facebook at

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