Alfred Jensen American, 1903-1981


“When the artist steps aside from his canvas, the spectator steps into that vacant place and with his appreciative response he repeats the sensation that the artist had, becoming one with the picture. An enjoyment that has merit.”

– Alfred Jensen

Alfred Jensen was an American painter and printmaker. Born in Guatemala, he was of Polish, German and Danish heritage. Jensen 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, and studied at the San Diego Fine Arts School in 1925 and with Hans Hofmann in Munich in 1926–7. He settled permanently in the USA 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 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.