Artist Candace Jensen on Illuminations and Mythologies in Her Practice

Interview with Douglas Turner

Artist Candace Jensen traces illuminated pathways through history, fine art, ecologies and landscapes. She is a self-proclaimed “interdisciplinary visual artist, writer, printmaker, calligrapher, activist and woods witch,” invested in a practice rooted in precepts of Deep Ecology. A Vermont-based artist, Jensen’s practice assimilates a rich range of inspirations, from illuminated manuscripts to poetry, environmental impact, mythology and fictions. As part of this conversation with the artist, a top prize winner of the “Alchemy” open call curated by Writer, Independent Curator and Wedge Studio Owner/Founder Douglas Turner, Jensen shares her reading list in tandem with her current body of work, its concepts and evolution, and a look forward at what’s to come: https://www.candacejensen.com/

(lead image: “Deconstructed Yantra: Gold, Red, White” by Candace Jensen; gold leaf, gouache, inkjet ink on plastic transfer and bronze leaf on paper 11” x 15” (2017))

ANTE mag. Thanks for chatting with us, Candace! Can you tell us what you’re currently reading (as a point of entry into your practice)?

Candace Jensen. Wow that is such a question. My TBR (to be read*-Ed.) stacks are plentiful, and I am a serial polytome reader. I should just send you a bunch of snappy pics of my coffee table, bedside table, the side of the couch the dog doesn’t sleep on… I just finished Mark Leidner’s Returning the Sword to the Stone, and Maria Dahvana Headley’s new translation of Beowulf in the wee hours of the night. They were both wry, and smart and very funny. Cindy Arrieu-King’s new book, The In Betweens, is a slim volume which has nonetheless lasted me a few weeks— she has such a wonderfully deliberate pace to her accounts, which all hover near the anecdotal but stay rooted in the contemplative, or vice-versa. So I’ve been sitting with that one for a while, chewing. I’ve begun reading Kate Soper’s Post-Growth Living: For An Alternate Hedonism, and Nedra Tawwab’s Set Boundaries, Find Peace, for theory and enrichment, but haven’t gotten far enough yet to report much on either (it’s looking good). My guilty-but-not-ashamed pleasure right now is the webcomic Lore Olympus by Rachel Smythe, which I anticipate every Saturday evening… I’ll stop there.

Belonging Sutra (Gaia Illumination) 
Candace Jensen
sumi ink, earth pigments, gum arabic, gold leaf, graphite, gouache and watercolor on suminagashi marbled Rives BFK 
diptych of (2) 22″ x 30″ 
2020
Image courtesy the artist.

ANTE mag. We were hoping you could expand on the question: what has the artist to offer? Way-finding, escapism, mythical creation, distraction, contemplation, or exploration? 

CJ. I am very attracted to this word group, and three triangulate to my work quite well: Way-finding, Mythical Creation, Contemplation. In a piece like Parzival, these are both my process and the verve of the finished piece. It was a messy throwaway scrap drawing, and it moved with me numerous times over a few years before it suddenly materialized into exactly what I needed as a vehicle for the grail myth, which I only recently became enamored with after reading more about it through Martin Shaw’s work.

Parzival (Gaia Illumination) 
Candace Jensen
-words by Joanna Macy 
Coffee, vermilion, sumi, watercolors, gouache, ink, graphite, turmeric on paper 22.5” x 30” 
2019
Image courtesy the artist.

I’m channeling myths, and echoing myths, and in this way I am hoping to create myths. But mythology by and large seems to me to be a “everything old is new again” kind of thing. They will always be read by the voice of the Zeitgeist, and can be appropriated and disrespected or exalted and magnified by our interest and lack therof. 

I think about the meaning of the work a lot in terms of the materials I use: of course, paper is incredibly precious, but we culturally treat it as if it were worthless. The environmental cost of paper-making and the sheer magic of its history in so many different cultural contexts, really it should be revered. But we tear it, trash it, recycle it occasionally. So in a drawing, it can be elevated out of its presumed worthlessness, the lead state, but that requires the contemplation and reflection upon it.

The layers of my illuminations are something to look through, and see around. There is some digging involved, if the viewer is patient. The chance that a person viewing my work will pause to really figure out the language and the layering is about one in twelve, I’ve watched and counted. So there is also a barrier to some people to even get to the point of being able to think through some of the materials I am presenting.

ANTE mag. Can you respond to/speak more on this reflection?: “These ‘Gaia Illuminations’ are chimeras of ecological relationship theory, practiced and recorded systems of knowledge and magic, and both invented and inherited mythology. I investigate nature/culture dualism through the lens of deep ecology, and face my own hopes and skepticisms through layered symbolic and totemic images, organic textures, and text.”

CJ. I am at heart a maximalist, and when I endeavored to casually reinvent calligraphic illumination through the lens of Gaia theory and Deep Ecology, I used that lens. Everything needs to be in it, or reflected, or hinted at, to truly be representative of a Whole large enough that we could consider the Terra entity. So, I don’t weed the garden beds of these illuminations. I plant a few particular seeds, be it a poem or a myth, and then I let a polyculture grow around it without playing gatekeeper (metaphor mixing here, it’s giving me life right now). So the quote above from my artist statement is a dense shorthand for saying “everything including the kitchen sink” and the totality isn’t afraid of itself. The claws are a different animal than the neck and head, but they nonetheless are unified. The result is tricky to read or disentangle, and that is perhaps how it should be— resilience theory emphasizes complexity, diversity, layers, redundancy. And that is not at all the same type of communication we are used to trying for. We are quite used to essaying our damnedest to be understood, to be clear, and are often encouraged to be pithy— no one wants to read your expounding, mile long email. Clarity and simplicity are useful, beautiful, wonderful, or something else, but if the Terrestrial totality is to be the heart of this compendium (series), then it must be much messier and overfilled. The sheer volume of ingredients going into this work overwhelms me, chronic deep thinker that I am. The way the visual poetry of the entanglements hint at, reveal and obfuscate meaning are a way of reflecting, learning and accepting in the end, how little I know, and how small my powers are. Its a humbling process. To think back to the prompt of Alchemy, I suppose the artwork is more the spagyric, the transformational process, and I am the element undergoing its effects. Whether I come out as gold, or dross, is to be seen.

ANTE mag. What do you have upcoming that you can share with us?

CJ. I am juggling a couple of really exciting exhibitions and events this year.  On May 13th I will be contributing to an online discussion with a few other very talented and interesting artists through EcoArtSpace, “Getting Off the Planet” at 1pm EST. https://ecoartspace.org/event-4262935I was also awarded a solo exhibition at the Southern Vermont Arts Center in Manchester, VT this summer. There is an opening reception planned (in person! wow) on Saturday, June 12th, and the show will run through July 2021.The planning and construction of the residency I founded with my partner, In Situ Polyculture Commons, continues; we are hoping to be able to announce an opening schedule for sometime in 2022, but in the meantime I have planted dozens of fruit and nut trees and perennials to support an edible landscape for our future guests. Lastly, in hopes that the health of communities abroad stabilize and recover from this last year and a half of pandemic, I will be looking forward to setting sail on the 2021 Arctic Circle Residency voyage in October of this year. Fingers crossed for many reasons!

Editors: Keep up with Candace on her website and/or follow her Instagram for updates on current and upcoming exhibitions, such as her solo show at the Southern Vermont Arts Center (Summer 2021) and upcoming three-person show at Amos Eno gallery (Spring 2022.)

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