It’s good to see Tamara Jensen’s paintings from her Big In Japan series as connecting with works by Melanie MacDonald, or Katie Mazi, that explore the everyday, often through small objects. Whereas those two artists favour objects that are more crafty (MacDonald’s Florida bric-a-brac, or Mazi’s ceramic cows from #inthesoil2017), Jensen employs delicately enticing origami as a starting point in her large acrylic paintings. These are on display at Bolete, in downtown STC, as part of her role as artist in residence in that space. That’s a space that approximately a year ago featured another excellent local artist, Geoff Farnsworth, and has continued to highlight local artists of quality. It’s one of many sites along St. Paul where the artwork is as attractive as the food.
Origami is both familiar and metaphorical (and personal, as Jensen spoke of folding hundreds for her wedding). We’ve all seen it, or made it, and it has the ubiquitous nature of craft. But having just watched Blade Runner 2049, the symbolic power that origami had in the original movie, and that briefly is cited in 2049, shows how much can be expressed in the fragile paper constructions (for me, it will always be the model for the time travel machine in The Invisibles. But I digress – see how evocative origami can be?)
Jensen’s works are massive: several are six feet long. Compositionally, the “characters” in Cardinal, Truffle Shuffle or Golden Bull are alone, in empty spaces, casting shadows or seemingly caught in mid motion, almost alive in Jensen’s portrayal. Some words from her catalogue, available in the Bolete space: “These paintings are based on photographs of origami that were designed by world-renowned origami artists and skillfully folded from a flat piece of paper or foil by those artists or others. Capturing and sharing these traditionally tiny paper sculptures on a grander scale pays tribute to the multiple levels of talent and treatment that produced the original images.” Further, “Big in Japan is a nod to the scale and subject matter, but also to the Japanese heritage of the restaurant’s chef-owner. “
In conversation, Jensen spoke of how her painting these “animals” is the final step in the process, as these origami were designed by one person, fold / created by another, then she works from a photograph taken by another person, and then her painting is the latest in the series of incarnations, of pieces like Cardinal. That’s an interesting conceptual chain of creation, but also acknowledges an artisan quality in the original objects that inspires her paintings.
Rooster seems to have just leapt into the picture plane: Tree Frog is captured in mid climb, as though its about to continue to move upwards and out of our view. Cardinal, with its head raised and beak open, is mid note in its musical trill. These are snapshots of beasts in motion. A calm before the storm in the surly aggressiveness of Golden Bull (she studied art and psychology at the University of Ottawa and Carleton University and the way in which she depicts these inanimate objects — we talked a bit about how people assign them genders, or see them as part of an illustrated narrative, like a still from a film — reflects that). Our conversation also covered how an early work of hers, of a Pinocchio figure, led to further interest and exploration of how hand made objects have a variable artistic life and interpretation to many viewers.
You’ll also see some of Jensen’s work in the upcoming NAC fundraiser, Small Feats (and her works have sold quickly in that event before, so move quickly) or visit Bolete in the downtown: but the dramatic and evocative nature of her work is also available in commissions. You can find her images on Instagram(@wander_tam, #buymoreart).
Big In Japan is the latest in a series of exhibitions in the downtown of STC that favour quality regional artists.
Bart Gazzola (also known as #artcriticfromhell) is an arts writer/critic who has published with Magenta Magazine, Canadian Art, New Art Gazette, Galleries West, PrairieSeen, Long Exposure and BlackFlash (where he was Editorial Chair for 3 years). He is Assistant Editor at thesound.rocks and a frequent contributor to various cultural spaces in Niagara.