Clay Jensen has an extensive mixed media background, but has primarily worked in steel fabrication, bronze casting and paint. During his time in the Bay Area, Jensen’s work has referenced the urban industrial environment in parallel contrast with the vast spaces he found in his home state of Utah.
Work Mirrors Environment
Jensen considers his work to be introspective and humanistic. When he moved from Utah to the more populated and industrialized Bay Area in 1976, he was drawn to the region’s gritty, industrial landscapes. He was also fascinated by the railroads and machinery cutting through and punctuating the land. He would often juxtapose cast bronze tree branches with I-beams and sheets of steel, which referenced a tension between nature and industry.
His work can be read as a visual diary with personal observations documenting his changing perceptions of urban life. As the environment of the Bay Area has changed and the urban industrial era has waned, Jensen’s work has also changed. The urban landscape and architectonic sites have become the main focus in his new work.
For Jensen, the environment is core to his work. He is immersed in the idea of landscape—natural, rural, and industrial spaces. There is always a battle between the industrial and natural landscape. The sculpture presents a dialogue about that shared space between man and nature. The pieces address the proximity and the struggle, or tussle, between the two.
Hierarchy also plays a role in his work. He asks questions about who uses the land, who owns it and who lives on it. In his sculptures, houses disrupt the land and are a symbol of the struggle. There is an awkwardness built into the work to address the “out of place” nature of our structures that we litter across the land. The minimal nature of the work highlights the imposition of man and his structures on the land.
Jensen has always felt that less is more. He is interested in a minimal surface to accentuate the simple shapes and surfaces of the work. There is poetry in the simple, quiet forms that are complex in nature but reduced, like haiku, to the minimal amount of information.
He likens the size of his smaller work to a book—something you can hold in your hands or on your lap. His work is personal and intimate, and the diorama nature of the pieces draws you in for a closer look.
From Wood to Metal
Jensen originally worked with wood, but switched to metal when he moved to the urban Bay Area because it was a better fit for the work and his imagery.
Working with wax (before a piece is casted) is like a sketchbook for Jensen. He can easily push around the elements, and play with texture, shape, and form. The surface and grey color of metal portray the long shadows across an urban sidewalk—a quiet, monolithic hue. The gun grey color also reminds Jensen of the time between dusk and dawn, a time when it’s hard to see. It is a questionable time—not light and not dark—a sort of “in between” point in time.
The patina is like painting, using chemicals and natural elements to create a reaction on the surface of the metal. “You start by destructing the surface, like rust,” Jensen says. “The artist is corroding the surface to get the intended shade or tone.”