“Rothko initiated color as a prism through which to access deeper, dormant human emotions, and Jacobsen advances this endeavor with nuance and idiosyncrasy.”
Grete Jacobsen, Harmony. Courtesy of the artist.
By Jill Smith
If Whistler was concerned with the landscape as a site of emotional transference, Jacobsen is concerned with how nature can mirror an inner landscape, a landscape of the heart. In her painting, Three Kings, Jacobsen uses an intense red palette, nearly monochrome. Golden flecks follow in successive row illuminating the center of the picture plane. Almost a perfect square, it grasps our visual field and our peripheral vision as we enter the painting. The surface of Three Kings is rich and full of palimpsest, peeks and valleys. The result is a work that is optical and frontal, imaging a head, oval, or sun-like shape.
Using thin, seamless glazes contrasted with thick impastoed marks, her work stands out among her contemporaries. This is due to her work conjuring up sensations of the sublime. Moving, aptly describes the sensuous surfaces that seem to emanate light from within and project light as well. This quality is most noticeable in her process. Her process allows for addition and subtraction, uniquely curtailing the crevices that arise. This feverish attention to the overall affect of the work is a direct result of an existential yearning for communion with the natural world.
Her impasto application is akin to de Kooning, but her color palette is markedly more restrained. This allows for our attention to be drawn primarily to the contrasts her bold, evocative colors create and not immediately attempt to decipher the shapes. Jacobsen resists categorization and interpretation of her work does not stop at her use of color, in the same way that the greens and blues cannot be bounded by the dark bands of brown. As painter Jules Olitski, another force of influence in the color field artists, “Painting has to do with a lot of things. Color is among the things it has to do with. It has to do with surface. It has to do with shape. It has to do with feelings which are much more difficult to get at.”
By isolating our experience of formal events on the picture plane she creates a space of ultimate contemplation. Edmund Husserl first introduced this methodology of isolating or “bracketing” experiences in 1906. By bracketing an experience we reserve our initial judgments, previous encounters, and ethical considerations as a priori. Instead, Husserl suggested the exclusion from consideration of everything that is transcendent and anything else derived via scientific or logical inference; and instead focus only on what was immediately presented to one’s consciousness. Perhaps more than any other image, Encounter captures the Zen-like epistemological notion of Husserl’s thinking.
Jacobsen’s work diverges from Frankenthaler’s in the application of her colors; hers have a palpable texture and appear in higher relief than Frankenthaler’s syrupy pools of color. Jacobsen’s abstractions are reminiscent not of a placid landscape but of something far more dynamic and even turbulent. The hues that are the most independent and jarring on the canvas are the ones rendered in highest relief. In Harmony, the smallest wisps of bright green emerge from the canvas, adding a striking sense of depth to a canvas with seemingly rudimentary colors and forms. Long bands of dark brown and black appear to border the bursts of green and unsuccessfully contain them. An echo of red appears under the layers of greens and blues, invoking the sense that each of these colors charts its own path, some more prevailingly than others.
Rothko initiated color as a prism through which to access deeper, dormant human emotions, and Jacobsen advances this endeavor with nuance and idiosyncrasy. Most evocative in Jacobsen’s work is the presence of her technique; careful brush strokes and discipline are evident throughout her pieces, allowing for a sense of intimacy between creator and viewer. Unlike Rothko’s blank swathes of color, which create a different relationship between artist and viewer entirely, Jacobsen draws hers in with the poignant honesty of her technique. This approach especially indispensable because Jacobsen is invoking those innermost human experiences, ones which we have suppressed so deeply as to appear almost unrecognizable. Her generous use of impasto and color invites us to be reciprocally generous in our interaction with these images. Jacobsen’s colors, contours, and texture invoke a purging of these emotions and a powerful confrontation with ourselves.