A bit more backstory on me The Floating Woods

Below is an article from Creative Loafing about my 2015 solo exhibition written by Megan Voeller.

Reclaimed and reimagined: Kenny Jensen’s Intimate Immensities.
The solo show at Studio@620 is part swamp séance and part family lore.

By Megan Voeller

The whole time Kenny Jensen was growing up, his grandfather was building a dream. In a barn adjacent to his grandparents’ hand-built cabin in the swamp near Gulf Hammock, about 40 miles southwest of Gainesville, Jensen watched a 53-foot-long, three-level pleasure boat made of 50 tons of concrete take shape around a skeletal metal frame. Its extravagant features included space onboard for a smaller boat, a darkroom for Jensen’s grandmother (an avid amateur photographer), and an ill-advised underwater window.

No one knew exactly why his grandfather was building the boat, Jensen says, but the project began after Jensen’s uncle died and lasted 18 years. The colossal Fern A., which would float and eventually decompose on the Waccasassa River, became a late-in-life obsession for the former commercial fisherman and electrical engineer. 

Years later, while Jensen was finding his way as a graphic designer, painter and cultural producer, he recalled the spirit of invention that infused his grandparents’ rural retirement. Leaving St. Petersburg for San Diego in 2006, after helping to organize a dozen contemporary art exhibitions at the Pier and the Morean Arts Center under the banner “Project Creo,” he returned to the cabin in Gulf Hammock and collected odds and ends, including a dilapidated piece of cloth that once functioned as seat covers sown by Jensen's mother for the pilot house of the boat.

In California, Jensen transformed the cloth into a painting by flipping it over and tracing its intricate network of root-like growths with a red pen and white paint. After a series of long meditations on San Diego beaches, he began to imagine merging his art and life in such works. 

A turning point came after Jensen moved back to St. Pete and in 2013, married his wife, Maggie, and began decorating their bungalow with artifacts and clusters of found objects — hunks of driftwood, pint-sized tangles of electrical wiring — salvaged from the cabin and surrounding swamp. Maggie asked a simple question. “This is your art. Why don’t you show this?” Jensen recalls. 

This week, a short-run exhibition at the Studio@620 showcases what happened when he decided to do just that. More than 100 pieces — ranging from minimally manipulated found objects recovered from his family’s property to photographs, drawings and carefully crafted sculptures — spill out into an archival love letter to the Gulf Hammock family home, which Jensen calls the “Floating Woods.”

The works display an engrossing range of approaches to making. Many are variations on a cabinet of curiosities, or a quirky collection of things arranged by theme or likeness, from dried swamp weeds to fragments of animal skull. Jensen weaves these elements together with more intentional artworks: cinematic color photographs shot in the swamp with friends, with Jensen acting as director, and altered maps, family photos and found images. On Saturday, Jensen gives a public talk at the Studio@620, where he also works as gallery curator and studio manager.

“I saw that the ideas I was most interested in communicating were best expressed through the play, through the collecting, the arranging. I’m a composer more than I am a painter,” Jensen says. 

When I turned up at his Crescent Lake home for a visit before the exhibition, I worried that Jensen’s collecting impulse might require a serious edit. Stacks of framed curiosities, drawings and photographs — all tenderly encased by hand with salvaged wood from, among other places, a friend’s termite-eaten garage in Seminole Heights — took over his indoor studio, a converted bedroom. A cat nested on a shelf amid half a dozen slender stumps of wood, now arranged on a white pedestal at the Studio@620, incised with graphic designs of curling insect-track patterns. Twisting chunks of driftwood and mangrove roots had colonized the garage.

But the exhibition, though dense, has unfolded beautifully onto newly built walls in the gallery. Many artists who work in such archival modes do so to probe a historical or scientific narrative. Jensen's task is more like conjuring: his exhibition is part swamp séance and part family lore.

Not all junk left to rot in your grandpa’s barn is created equal. Jensen picks the stuff he can coax something special out of: a yellowed scrap of paper revived with a delicate colored pencil drawing; a DIY electrical circuit board repurposed into a kind of abstract geometric collage; or a decomposing stack of magazines, gorgeous with flaky crustiness, just mounted to a wall. 

The drawing on cloth from his grandfather’s boat hangs at the front of the show. The back of the gallery is devoted to a small exhibition-within-the-exhibition of his grandfather’s designs and his grandmother’s photographs.

When Jensen’s grandparents returned to St. Petersburg a few years ago for health reasons, he acquired the deed to the Gulf Hammock property, where he and his wife escape on weekends. Now Jensen plans to develop the site into an artists’ residency program, a resource sorely lacking in West Central Florida. The work in Intimate Immensities offers a preview of the sensibility he hopes to share with other artists. 

“This is what I see when I’m in creation and nature,” Jensen says. “I’m synthesizing my experience in the swamp and in the world with the gallery.” 

The Floating Woods

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Note: The next few posts will provide context for where I have been working on and off over the past few months. Then I will be presenting a series of posts that will show documentation of the entire process of some of the big projects I have been working on first for the Morean Arts Center exhibition opening September 8th and then for the Creative Pinellas Emerging Artist show at the end of October.

The Floating Woods is the name my wife Maggie and I came up with for our family land located in Gulf Hammock a little over 100 miles north of St. Pete that we took over from my grandparents a few years ago. This magical slice of old Florida is surrounded by hammock forests and currently very full swamps contains a log cabin that my grandfather built by himself out of cypress trees and a large barn he made out of metal. In addition there is a huge old pool my grandparents made themselves that has since been converted into the safest fire-pit ever and compost collector, as well a lovely little grass field with a soon to be flourishing garden. I have included several images of the land that i took this evening.

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Phil and Fern Jensen purchased this land around the time of my birth, so I have been coming up here many times each year for my entire life (I just turned 40 last week…). It was here that I fell in love with the Florida wilderness and over the years developed many of my most significant creative concepts that have led to my current art practices. In February 2013 Maggie and I gathered our friends and families here for our wedding. Since then we have been dreaming about how live up here full time. Our dream is to eventually start an artist in residence program and organic farm, in which artists of all creative fields will come here to live with us and and assist with the farm when they are not make amazing art. We also now have a one and a half year old son named Cedar that really loves it up here so it has been a joy to share the wonder with him. 

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As i mentioned in the last post we have been up here much of the summer so that I can have adequate space to work on the large wall mounted sculptures/paintings I am in the process of making. I primarily work in the barn which is a giant and amazing space, but also very exposed to the elements which makes for an always interesting and sometimes challenging working environment especially at night (as you can see in the next post).

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Introduction

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Greetings all!

I would like to express my gratitude to the Creative Pinellas team for making this grant available. It has been a pleasure to work with the staff thus far and I look forward to interacting more over the next few months. In addition I would like to extend my official congratulations to the other emerging artists. I am excited to see what everyone creates.

In this initial entry I will provide a brief overview of what I have already been doing with the grant funds as well as my ongoing plans throughout the grant period. I have started this blog a bit later than I had initially planned due to some very involved projects I have been working on, of which I will be sharing more about in subsequent posts.

Well, it has been a very busy past few months of art making and it will not be letting up for a while. In addition to the work I am creating for the Emerging Artist Grant showing at the end of October, I am participating in three other exhibitions. First, soon after I was awarded this grant, I was offered an opportunity to show with my good friend Casey Mcdonough at the Morean Arts Center. The exhibition is entitled (in/af)finities and opens on Friday, September 8th (very soon!). I have been frantically creating all new work for this show, which represents a bold new direction for my art. I am excited to share it with the community.  Second, I have a solo exhibition showing at the Rauch Gallery at Calvary Christian High School opening mid September. This showing will include multiple workshops and presentations with students. Third, I am a part of the traveling and evolving exhibition Construct created and curated by fellow grantee Nathan Beard. This third showing is opening at the Palmetto Arts Center on Oct 6 and features additional artists from that community.

In addition to the art I am making, there are several steps I will be taking toward the goal of increasing my presence as a professional artist including: designing and printing new business cards, updating my website to include new work and ongoing projects, and setting up an account on Patreon to help support my studio practice.

Stay tuned. More art and blogging will follow very soon.

Those of you who are new to me and my art, please check out my website – www.kennyjensen.com. Enjoy!

Thank you.

 

 

Kenny Jensen

Kenny Jensen is a multidisciplinary artist with a deep connection to and concern for Florida’s unique wilderness. His diverse conceptual practice includes the collection and manipulation of found specimen, sculpture, installation, painting, photography, graphic design, video, and performance art.

Kenny has been involved with the Tampa Bay arts community as an exhibiting artist and as an orchestrator of dozens of cross-discipline group exhibitions both in grassroots and official gallery settings for nearly 20 years. He has worked with multiple St. Petersburg based organizations including the Museum of Fine Arts, and The Morean Arts Center where he was a primary orchestrator of Project Creo – the contemporary art and site-specific installation space at the former Pier from 2003 to 2006. During this very formative period he had the opportunity to work with and learn from local, regional and international artists. Most recently he was the Gallery Curator at The Studio@620 which he left this past spring to focus on developing his vocation as a professional artist.                   

The first major step toward realizing this goal was his premier solo exhibition in 2015 at The Studio@620 entitled Intimate Immensities ~ Curiosity Cabinets of the Floating Woods. This wide-ranging collection featured several visually distinct yet thematically interwoven bodies of work including over 100 sculptures, images and     artifacts, from large installations of swamp driftwood to minute drawings on fragile, decayed paper. This exhibition was received with much enthusiasm by the community and has led to several subsequent opportunities, including a group exhibition at Yale University Divinity School, an upcoming two-person exhibition in September 2017 at the Morean Arts Center and a solo exhibition in summer 2018 at The Dunedin Fine Arts Center.

Many of his inspirations and source materials are gathered from extensive stalking in and around his family land in rural Gulf Hammock, FL (The Floating Woods), and from his work as a local landscape gardener. The varied artworks emerge through linking these wanderings/dwellings in the field with a similar studio practice, allowing the intuitive process of making to guide the direction and meaning of the artwork. His current practice is expanding to reproduce these found forms and patterns with more traditional sculptural materials and bright unnatural colors.

Like the naturalists of old who ventured into the unknown returning with strange curiosities to contemplate and impart, he is a collector and composer of common phenomena hidden just beneath the surface of the natural environment all around us. By representing these findings in beautiful and unexpected ways, Kenny seeks to open up new ways of seeing ourselves and our place in the world, encouraging a more grounded connection to the earth we were given to live and move and have our being.