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On1 Culture: Marcus Jansen @Marcus_Jansen

Marcus Jansen and Urban Expressionism

It’s seldom that you find a painter who combines technical skill and expertise with a profound sense of purpose and a truly unique awareness of the world. Discovering such an artist is truly an invigorating undertaking, at once inspiring and utterly refreshing. Such was my experience when I found Marcus Jansen.

Marcus Jansen
Jansen has a fully modern style, utilizing an amalgam of techniques by combining graffiti and graphic design with contemporary art. His paintings, commonly cataloged under the label “urban expressionism”, are created through a hybrid of mediums. Jansen specializes in oil and enamel paints and he works with collage as well. His paintings are alive with color, accented by paint smears and splatters. While expressionist works often seem flat and two-dimensional, Jansen’s burst forth with depth and motion.

The pictures he paints depict everyday urban scenes, usually exaggerated city landscapes bursting with color and movement. Each painting seems ready to collapse on itself, ripe with the paradoxical beauty of urban decay. It might be because both artists work with oil on canvas, but Jansen’s street scenes remind me of Salvador DalĂ­’s surrealist landscapes. Colors melt and chaos reigns in the disintegrating metropolitan terrains, blurring the boundaries of reality. Like Robert Delaunay in his early period, Jansen makes abstractions out of the concrete elements of our world.


Due to his penchant for painting landscapes and still lifes, Jansen seldom ever paints people as his subject. Instead they occupy his crumbling landscapes merely as minor pieces in a larger machine, diminutive inhabitants dwarfed by their surroundings. Though each painting is an aesthetic feast, colorful and eclectic, nearly all of them suggest a sense of anxiety, disease in a dystopian world. In this respect his paintings are comparable to those of Stanley Donwood, artistic cohort of the band Radiohead.

True to their urban subject matter, the paintings are gritty and untamed. It is clear to see elements of graffiti coupled with symbol-rich graphic design. Jansen shares Shepard Fairey’s taste for eye-catching iconography, though with a more subtle touch. Some Jansen’s paintings display the hip-hop sensibility of image sampling, borrowing such recognizable figures as Mickey Mouse and the crew from The Wizard of Oz.

Jansen utilizes these popular images to create a sort of political subtext to his paintings, a statement on the state of society. As a veteran of the Gulf War educated in Europe, Jansen has a unique and multi-faceted worldview. Through the use of potent images and, in some cases, scrawled text, Jansen conveys a political voice similar to that seen in the paintings of poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti. The inclusion of bold phrases such as “Surrender” and “War is Terrorism with a Bigger Budget” alongside classic American symbols creates a powerful commentary with a subversive political edge.
Marcus Jansen

With his unique style and vision, Marcus Jansen truly is an artist for this age. Though it’s easy to get lost in his post-apocalyptic postmodern landscapes, analyzing the imagery and poking through oil splotches, but it’s a journey worth taking. It is truly refreshing to find such clarity of vision mixed in chaos and discord.

Unsurprisingly, Jansen has garnered a great deal of praise from critics and, as a result, his career his blossoming. He has a DVD out about his work and his life entitled Marcus Jansen: A Painter’s Allegory. He has upcoming shows in Florida, Rome, Chicago, and San Francisco.

Perhaps the biggest development in his career is his involvement on Russell Simmons’ new project, The Art Album, a collaboration between hip-hop musicians and visual artists. Featuring musicians and artists such as Jay-Z, Ludacris, Lil Wayne, and Shepard Fairey, The Art Album promises to be a groundbreaking art book that showcases the art behind hip-hop lyrics, compared to the themes in contemporary visual art.

by Justin Ferraro

For more information: www.marcusjansen.com

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