ALFRED JENSEN was an American painter and printmaker, born in Guatemala December 11, 1903. Of Polish, German and Danish heritage, he started school in Denmark and completed high school in San Diego, CA, after working as a seaman and as a farmer in Guatemala. He eventually decided to train as a painter, studying at the San Diego Fine Arts School in 1925 and with Hans Hofmann in Munich in 1926–7. He settled permanently in the USA only in 1934. The patronage of Saidie Alder May (d 1951), a wealthy woman whom he met in 1927 as a fellow student of Hofmann, made it possible for him to dedicate himself to the study of colour theory (especially that of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe), Mayan and Inca cultures, science, mathematics and philosophy. Much of this knowledge was later transposed into complex, diagrammatic pictures such as Family Portrait (1958) and The Great Mystery II (1960; both Buffalo, NY, Albright–Knox A.G.), which are characterized by grid structures of tiny squares in bright opaque colours. Although there is sometimes a superficial resemblance between works by Jensen and the use of particular motifs by other artists—for example the colour circles of Robert Delaunay and Sonia Delaunay or the numbers of Jasper Johns—his purpose in using such forms and symbols was highly personal, bordering on the metaphysical. The complexity of the relationships of colour was paralleled by mathematical sequences which reflected Jensen’s interest in magical numerical systems. In works of the 1970s, such as Doric Order (1972; Pittsburgh, PA, Carnegie), he returned to the use of repeated signs, letters and especially numbers, which he had first used around 1960. Jensen died in Livingston, New Jersey on April 4, 1981.
Alfred Jensen : magic 14, 1960, oil on canvas, 26 x 20, 66 x 51cm