• Grete Jacobsen: Illuminating Light

    Date posted: June 5, 2012 Author: jolanta

    powerful confrontation

    “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.


    Grete Jacobsen:  Illuminating Light

    By Jill Smith

    Caked in thick blues and cracked greens, Grete Jacobsen’s canvases remind one of the Earth’s surface; the topography of paint mimicking the depths of our valleys and cliffs. It is easy to see her Norwegian countryside within her paintings; its jagged mountains and vast seas. Her use of primary reds and blues and arresting greens and oranges, applied in large sweeping gestures echo the rhythm of a pulse, a heartbeat.  Working within the Abstract-Expressionist style, Grete Jacobson examines the process of painting itself. In her heavy application of paint pigments, she explores the connection between painting and our surrounding world, between painting and our inner-selves in an apparent and physical way.  Her works portray the middle ground that we, as humans existing in a contemporary age, are constantly suspended in; struggling to balance the dynamism of the world around us and the stillness we experience in listening to the sound of one’s own breath.

    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.”

    Grete Jacobsen, Encoutner.  Courtesy of the artist.

    This philosophy is well at-hand in Jacobsen’s work. In Encounter, the vibrant, almost neon greens of the piece jar the viewer with their contrast to the equally as electric red base, but their shapes and reminiscences around the border of the piece beckon us to look more closely. The shapes are so delicately rendered that the texture of the fabric is evident, and the deliberateness of the colors evokes a sense of order in the seemingly indecipherable abstraction. The scarlets grounding Three Kings immediately invoke a sense of nobility and opulence, but the gold figures are incredibly dynamic and appear in motion. The interaction between color and form creates an effect of stirring progress to an unknown and unknowable place. Like a good poem, the forms of Jacobsen’s images is both challenged and buttressed by their contents: their colors, their textures, their alternating thickness and translucence. Heavily rendered to the left of the piece, the golden forms become increasingly filmy as they advance in a downward fashion and as the viewer reads them in the traditional left-to-right fashion.

    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.

    Grete Jacobsen, Three Kings.  Courtesy of the artist.
    Encounter is a work which brackets a field of enormous activity in the center of the picture.  This effectively captures the sensation of movement and intensity, and designates anything else to the periphery.  This invites us on an individual journey; the spectator is entering the world of the sublime.  Other western counterparts for Jacobsen are Rothko and Helen Frankenthaler. At just 23 years old, Helen Frankenthaler painted Mountains and Sea (1952), an abstraction that freed up the stalemate in postwar American art following the first exciting spark of creative activity by the Abstract Expressionists. It looks, in reproduction, like a peaceful evocative painting with a series of blue, green and red stains fading into pink – all of which hint at the landscape that the title suggests.  These color field painters illuminated our sense of light and nature and changed the face of painting.  Jacobsen keeps this torch alight.  She creates paintings where the space, location and environment are everything. Her work is elemental.  It conveys a rich passion, a described earthy-ness that is palpable.  It is a strength distributed by the earth and its elements and awarded to those who are willing to receive it.

    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.

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