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Kevan Jenson's Carbon Sequestration

Exhibition of Jenson’s mystic surrealist smoke paintings illuminates the relationship between his imagery of ecological change, and his process of working with a burning torch as a brush.

This gallery is a private residence and arts salon. Aside from events such as this reception, which is open to the public, visits must be coordinated with Gibson Art Projects by emailing

(BERKELEY, CA) - From March 24th, 2018 through May 19th, 2018, Gibson Art Projects presents Kevan Jenson’s Carbon Sequestration. In Jenson’s G.A.P. expo in March, entitled Carbon Sequestration, the idea of being held captive by a host of contemporary problems (global warming, an oil economy, the loss of our natural landscapes to deforestation and amplified natural disaster like wildfires) is conflated with notions of how good paintings capture viewers and hold them enthralled. In Jenson’s paintings we are held by the swirling imaginal field of the works AND understand that they are literally made via combustion. The works also sequester carbon in the paint layer. The process explores the perils of our ecology, but in an ironically beautiful way. The presentation features a selection of smoke paintings on canvas such as “Pip” (image below).  Jenson’s smoke works are collected in the Centre Pompidou and The Gerald Buck Collection at UC Irvine.

Aesthetics provide a path of engagement with the world, especially a world in crisis.  Kevan follows on the processes and ethics used by Surrealists to keep Western culture moving forward during the darkest years of the 20th century - a free engagement with the imagination, in particular “automatic” imagery.  He believes that artists will keep the inner flames of inspiration lit during the dark passages lying ahead as we negotiate our way through another era of upheaval. If we place Jenson’s work in this context, they begin to open up as omens, visions, and harbingers of danger, or opportunity, and as places of contemplation.  They reveal a mystic vision for our times.

Kevan Jenson is in a lineage of American magician / alchemist painters such as Frederic Church, Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock. Like them, he paints “landscapes” that probe our imagination and reveal a realm that elicits beauty yet whispers and ebbs warnings. Famed art historian Peter Selz claims “he knows how to make magic.”

Jenson came from a family of artists, writers and musicians, but at 17 started at UC Berkeley in math and science.  He quickly abandoning that field at 18 and headed for a career in art after discovering and idolizing Marcel Duchamp. At Cal, he studied with sculptor Harold Paris and became his assistant and mentee. During his time with Paris he experimented with smoke, yet it was an image of Yves Klein with a flamethrower that pointed out a path. After Paris died, Kevan packed up and left Cal to embrace the NYC art world where had a studio in a post-punk musician’s building in Chelsea in the early 80s while working as an NYC cab driver.

Kevan did some initial smoke work in NY, but when he came back to California in ‘85, he was immediately inspired by the landscape, ecology and psychology of fire and started fervently working with smoke on canvas.

The fire culture runs deep in California and started with its native peoples who were in touch with this cyclical aspect of the landscape. The hills in California are constantly burning. The native word Temescal, which is a neighborhood just a walk away from this exhibit, comes from smoke healing ceremonies and preventative fires. Kevan says, “There is a ritualistic part of using fire as a tool. I got into smoke upon arrival back in California… and haven’t stopped.”

Jenson has a resume that reads like many lifetimes packed into half a life. Jenson studied and worked with a California master, cut his teeth in the New York art scene in the 80s, worked as an artist in LA while simultaneously working as a video engineer and film producer with folks like David Lynch and Hito Steyerl. Jenson even spent nine years working with the best-selling psychologist James Hillman on the links between Marcel Duchamp and Depth Psychology.

We find an artist embraced by legends of the past and present. Peter Selz, one of the most influential curators and art historians of the 20th century, curated a 20-year retrospective of Kevan’s work at Meridian Gallery in SF in 2008 as well as highlighting him at Rocking Horse Gallery in 2017. At the same time, we see Jenson working with and supported by Hito Steyerl, whom Art Review dubbed  “The Most Influential Artist of 2017” on their Power 100 list.

It’s easy to see the visual magic that Jenson creates in his smoke paintings, but what’s even more important is what is underneath or upside down in the way that Kevan has used his diverse palate of experience to comment on our most fundamental western ideas, and his Californian identity.

Earlier Event: August 19
David Kampmann's Dogs & Icons
Later Event: April 18
Duchamp for Painters