Robert W. Jensen aka Jerry Madison (1929-2018)
About Robert W. Jensen
Robert W. Jensen’s long interest in and affinity toward painting the beauty that surrounds him, has been the impetus for a career that has produced not only individual paintings and limited edition prints for private and public collectors around the world, but also reproductions of many of his works as illustrations in books, ranging in subject matter from his first visit to mainland China to another on youthful athletics and still another on the history of a major university’s marching band.
The latest publishing venture debuted on May 1, 2010, when the over 200-page hard cover volume celebrating the forty year career of the University of Southern California’s Trojan Marching Band Director, Dr. Arthur C. Bartner, was introduced at a gala on that campus. The book, titled The Man on the Ladder was designed and written by Jensen and his corporate partner, Keith H. Walker, and features many of Jensen’s paintings of the band.
Reilly Rhodes, who is a former museum director of not only the Bowers Museum in Orange County, but also the Albrecht Gallery, the Monterey Museum of Art and the National Art Museum of Sport, has said, “Jensen’s way of looking at things tells us about the world we inhabit as a place of peace and beauty. His is a search for that lost space between what is real and what we dream and long for in our sometimes troubled lives. His work reminds us why art is important and why it should be considered as a wondrous event.”
It was through Rhodes that the Butler Institute of American Art in Youngstown, Ohio, noted for having one of the strongest collections of American art in the U.S., acquired one of Jensen’s paintings, titled The Diamond Belt Weigh-In, for its permanent collection, which includes works by Audubon, Inness, Edward Hopper, John Marin, Ben Shahn, and Winslow Homer.
The Diamond Belt Weigh-In painting was just one of 91 Jensen images reproduced in a book titled The Young Athlete that Jensen produced as an homage to young people and sports. Many of those images were chosen by author Dr. Mari Womack for her book, Sport as Symbol - Images of the Athlete in Art, Literature and Song. Womack, who is a research scholar at the UCLA Center for the Study of Women, chose Jensen’s works along with those by Renoir, Goya, Curry, Archipenko and many others from the world’s finest museums.
The Brooks Museum in Memphis, Tennessee has a suite of six original graphics that Jensen created of scenes around that city. The Copley Library in La Jolla, and the Nixon Library and Birthplace in Yorba Linda, California are two other institutions with Jensen paintings in their collections. Of the latter, Jensen installed six watercolors of their gardens there. Jensen’s works can be found in numerous private collections from coast to coast in this country, including the White House archive. A great many Jensen paintings are in Memphis, where he actively supported the fund raising efforts of St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital working closely with famed opera star Marguerite Piazza. He painted portraits of her for their annual fund raising balls in Memphis. One portrait now hangs in the St. Jude lobby. He donated another large painting of the Federal Express sponsored St. Jude’s Golf Tournament, and included a limited edition lithograph and notepaper reproductions, all to raise money for the hospital.
His work with the Memphis Symphony to produce a limited edition lithograph of their annual concert in the gardens of the Dixon Museum based on one of his paintings led to his being made an Honorary Councilman of the city. The Hugo Dixon International Service Award was presented to him in Memphis in 1999 at a black-tie gala of the English Speaking Union. The Memphis Symphony Association presented another award to Jensen for his donation of a painting of the symphony in the park which was used for posters as a fund raiser.
Jensen’s affiliation with Galerie Marumo of Paris came about as a result of a visit to his studio by the director of their Los Angeles art gallery. Galerie Marumo, specializing in 19-20th century French masters and Impressionists, had never before considered showing an American artist. When they saw a large commission that Jensen was painting for a client in Brentwood, they suggested a one-man show in the Los Angeles gallery. That premiere exhibition, titled California, was so successful, Jensen continued the relationship for several more years, including his paintings being shown in the Marumo Paris gallery, as well as an exhibition at the Stephen Wise Temple Schools (where, in both locations, his paintings were hung comfortably next to Renoir, Monet and Caillebotte).
Paintings by Jensen have been exhibited in many museums, including the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, Redlands University, the United States International University in San Diego, the Pacific Asia Museum in Pasadena, the University of Southern California’s Helen Lindhurst Fine Art Gallery, and a number of museums across the country as part of the Art for the Parks touring exhibition. In a program of exhibitions at La Galerie at The Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills, Jensen presented paintings, drawings and prints of various parts of the world he has visited. The prestigious Regency Club atop the Rupert Murdoch building on Los Angeles’ west side has held several special showings of Jensen’s work. These many exhibitions have reached an international audience resulting in collectors with Jensen’s works in Japan, Kuwait, France and England.
Media response has been gratifying. Bonnie Churchill, the syndicated international radio and newspaper columnist, said ‘Jensen’s paintings capture a panorama of American life in action...he has a turn-of-the-century sensibility, but of our time, with an American heritage dating back to Daniel Boone.” She was referring to the maternal side of Jensen’s ancestors who were direct descendants of the famous frontiersman on his mother’s side. Churchill was so impressed with his work that she collaborated on his book about sports, contributing stories about celebrities and their youthful experiences.
Designers West magazine called his exhibit, “...an opportunity to enjoy a light-filled moment for all time...the impressionist style lives on. Julie Jaskol, writing in the Los Angeles !ndependent, “In a Jensen painting, the landscapes...take on a lyrical lilt of turn-of-the-century Paris, or the countryside of southern France.” Jennise Johnson, in the West Los Angeles College paper said, “At a time when art can take any form, no matter how ghastly or unnecessary, it’s nice to know that someone is still producing work that won’t leave you shocked, disgusted or indifferent.” That same reviewer said of one of Jensen’s paintings of the falls at Yosemite, “I could almost feel the fine mist on my face.” She was referring to one of his National Park paintings, titled Bathers at the Falls. The painting was exhibited in a California Realists show at the Jolin Wayne Airport in Newport, and has since been sold to a private collector. When Horizon magazine was still being published, they compared Jensen’s work to Matisse, Picasso and Whistler.
In addition to Horizon, Jensen has been the subject of numerous major feature stories in newspapers and magazines across the country, including the Los Angeles Times, the Santa Monica Outlook (which printed their weekend supplement cover in color reproducing one of Jensen’s paintings), the Memphis Commercial Appeal, and the Christian Science Monitor (where he wrote an article on design as well).
Jensen’s works tend to be predominantly Impressionist, but the contemporary subjects he selects project this wonderful school of art with its origins in the nineties of the last century into the present day. The landscapes and floral works reflect the’ most obviously influence, but a group of teenage boxers preparing for a competition or Chinese musicians in their ancient costumes, are definitely of the same school, albeit a somewhat more subtle exercise of the style.
He explains further, “I consider what I produce the sum total of all my experiences - education, visiting exhibits, travel, my own experiments, reading - you name it. My heritage is Scandinavian, which going back further derives from the ancient Celts. I can see strong relationships there, but on the other hand, the Impressionists and the Nabis painters really provided the soil in which my own style grew. I am captivated by the same kind of sun light here in Southern California that spurred the Impressionist painters in Southern France some decades ago; although I think my work tends to be a little more realistic than the pure Impressionists.”
One of Jensen’s touring exhibitions was titled Among the Flowers. Using the silkscreen process, he had completed a major serigraph of that same name, an image 40” X 54’, on archival paper, printed with 27 separate screens. The color separations were all done by Jensen. The edition is limited to 385 prints, each signed and numbered. The subject is a lady in flowing pink chiffon making her way across a field of flowers at the Arboretum in Arcadia, California.
Another of Jensen’s touring exhibitions was The Waking Dragon Beckons, a collection of paintings which resulted from his visit to The People’s Republic of China. More than half of the paintings in the show were sold during a studio preview prior to the tour, with all the buyers perfectly content to wait for delivery after the tour was concluded. The Pacific Asia Museum in Pasadena was the final stop on the tour which included the University of Redlands and the United States International University in San Diego.
The Miller Gallery of Fine Art in Memphis, was the setting for another collection of his work that he titled What Color is the Wind? It consisted of works in many different media: acrylic on canvas watercolor on archival paper, lithographs, serigraphs, etchings, and his two original media inventions: the E-D-I-T print and the laser collage. The title of the collection is derived from international columnist and author Bonnie Churchill’s narrative, in which she recalls a blind boy asking her, “What color is the wind?” (The Disney movie and song on the same subject came long after.) As Jensen says, “The paintings and her commentary may not answer the question, but they do provide food for thought on how we all perceive what we see.”
His subjects range from the Huntington Botanical Gardens, the Arboretum, and other local areas to many National Parks. The Huntington’s gift/book shop sold note papers reproducing his series of paintings of their gardens. Art for the Parks, an organization headquartered in the Grand Tetons, selected one of his paintings in 1988 as one of a hundred chosen from nearly 3000 entries for a touring exhibition. The painting depicted a scene in the local Santa Monica Mountains National Park, just five minutes from downtown Beverly Hills. That painting toured in 1988-89 to the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center; the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial in St. Louis; the Neville Public Museum of Brown County in Green Bay, Wisconsin; the Rockwell Museum in Corning, New York; and the Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History in Jamestown, New York.
His horizons have expanded in recent years as he travels around the world. One of his favorite choices for subject matter is his native Carmel. “I was lucky,” says Jensen, “what better place could a future artist have as a home town than Carmel, California? That’s where I grew up, and from the time I was in grammar school, I was encouraged to be an artist.”
The encouragement came as a result of his natural inclination to draw and paint. When other children were playing games, he would be out climbing the rocks along the beach in search of the perfect scene. He recalls his first real direction was provided by an exceptionally gifted art teacher at Carmel High School. “He was able to convey to me the need for discipline in achieving the kinds of detailed paintings I wanted to do.”
On a visit there, he painted a beach scene in Carmel, depicting a young boy sitting on the rocky shore watching the waves. That acrylic on canvas painting, 84” X 38”, titled Boy on the Rocks, was selected from some 2200 entries by the Museum of the National Arts Foundation for a juried exhibition in New York City at the Jacob K. Javits Federal Building, titled In Search of the American Experience.
Since many people expressed admiration for his work, Jensen decided to make his paintings more accessible by reproducing the paintings on note papers, many of which were sold at such book and gift shops as the already mentioned Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens, as well as the Norton Simon Museum, Pacific Asia Museum and the Nixon Library. Jensen has provided the notepapers as favors for many charity fund raising events, including the Los Angeles Beautiful Foundation, the Footlighters, Sonance, the Los Angeles Philanthropic Foundation, the Freedom Foundation, the already mentioned St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, and the National Arts Association.
His efforts on behalf of the latter organization prompted them to make him their annual honoree, placing him in the company of such previous honorees as Andre Previn, David Hockney, Vincent Price, the Charlton Hestons, Mrs. Ronald Reagan, and John Raitt.
His other public service activities have included producing posters for the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, a benefit program book and fund-raising scarf for the Los Angeles Zoo, a SHARE benefit program booklet, and many others. The National Arts Association has commissioned him for a number of years to paint portraits for presentation to their honorees, including the actor Vincent Price; film company executive Roy Disney; the founder of The Friends of French Art, Mrs. Elin Vanderlip of Palos Verdes; and a portrait of Etsuko Price, wife of Joe D. Price who generously donated the Japanese Pavilion to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. In Memphis, he has become a popular portrait painter of many of the community’s most important people, as well as their children. Most recently, the Reagan Library commissioned a portrait of President Ronald Reagan on horseback.
For several years, he judged the art work of students of the elementary and middle schools of Los Angeles, entered in the Department of Water and Power’s contest to promote awareness of energy conservation and the environment. He also served as a juror for the Disney Festival of the Masters Art Competition in Florida.
He has become a popular speaker to a wide range of audiences – from a black tie dinner for 400 guests at the English Speaking Union in Memphis to a gathering of over 300 school children participating in an art contest in Los Angeles. He has spoken to the Freedom Foundation, the National Arts Association, as well as master classes at the University of California and the University of Tennessee.
His topics have ranged from discussing how his own art evolves to his personal views on the contemporary visual arts, fashion, music, literature, and architecture – virtually allof the cultural things that everyone is exposed to every day.
Jensen’s association with the USC Trojan Marching Band began with a portrait commission to paint Trojan Marching Band Director Arthur C. Bartner, commemorating his 20th anniversary at the University of Southern California. That original portrait was presented to Dr. Bartner in 1990, with nearly a thousand lithographs presented to the band’s supporters. Some five years later, Jensen did a whole series of paintings on the band, as well as a book. The book was introduced at a gala Silver Celebration at the Los Angeles Coliseum. The series of paintings, drawings and watercolors were presented as an exhibition, The Band, at the Helen Lindhurst Fine Art Gallery at USC. His volunteer work resulted in a Spirit of Troy award for his generosity, service and dedication.
One of the paintings in The Band collection, titled Catalina Fourth, has been published by Jensen as a limited edition offset lithograph. The image includes both a U.S. Army and the University of Southern California marching bands, with crowds of children, some joining the parade on decorated bicycles, others just watching, a scene that took place on Catalina Island on the Fourth of July, but has certainly been repeated countless times in countless communities throughout this country over the past century with only minor modifications. Another more recent painting by Jensen, titled Trojan Victory is currently being published as a limited edition print for sale in the USC Book Store. Jensen also designed a series of holiday greetings with the USC Band as the central theme. He recently completed a sculpture of the Trojan drum major introduced at the band’s annual concert in El Cerritos. Cast in a limited edition, they were given to special friends of the band, and there are proposals to cast a full size version for placement on the campus.
In 2003, Jensen painted the Trojan Marching Band on Broadway, the theme of the band’s annual concert gala and fund raiser. Reproductions of it were used for the invitation, program, post cards, and a limited edition print as commemorative of the event. The relationship with the band continued with a one man show of 150 works at the Muckenthaler Cultural Center in Orange County and an event that featured the Trojan Marching Band at the opening.
Jensen, working with his partner Keith H. Walker, in their public relations firm, Jensen & Walker, Inc., which specializes in arts and architecture clients, has provided campaigns for The Hyatt Foundation’s Pritzker Architecture Prize for all but two of the years of the prize’s existence. One facet was a touring exhibition of works by prize laureates comprised of free standing walls with photo enlargements and pedestals with architectural models. The exhibition traveled for ten years, opening in Chicago at the Harold Washington Library Center in 1992, and visiting institutions in Texas, Washington, Nebraska, Florida, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan and the District of Columbia. It was the premiere exhibit at Berlin’s new Architecture Museum in 1995. After several other European venues, the exhibit was shown in South America and then returned to the U.S. for an exhibit at Brigham Young University.
For the 20th Anniversary of the Pritzker Prize, Jensen created a special exhibition for the White House where the ceremony to bestow the prize was hosted by President and Mrs. Clinton. That same exhibit was shown at Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, as well as the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Because both Jensen and Walker have a great appreciation of the fine arts, it’s not surprising to learn that one of their collections, an edition of Goya’s Los Caprichos etchings and aquatints, is currently on loan to Contemporary and Modern Print Exhibitions of Laguna Niguel, California for exhibition in museums around the country, including a venue in Los Angeles, the Forest Lawn Museum of Art.
That same appreciation and knowledge of the disciplines and craftsmanship required for the various techniques of producing original graphics led Jensen to become intrigued with several modern technologies that he believed could be used to produce quality works of art. Just as printmakers at the turn of the century, such as Whistler, Hayden and Pennell, were experimenting with the processes of etching, lithography, silk screening and wood block printing, Jensen experiments with the technology available today. He has always been open to experimentation. He won a Pacifica Award for his innovative work with the rotary silk screen process while working with his original fabric designs.
Although he is best known for acrylic-on-canvas works, often on a very large scale (he did one landscape commission 9 X 12 feet), Jensen is equally comfortable working in other media, including watercolors, and extensive work in various print media — from those traditional graphic processes just mentioned, to originating new techniques in his studio. He has two, one called laser collage and the other, the E-D-I-T print respectively, both systems using the technology of computers and electronic copiers.
In an exhibition of a suite of twelve such experimental computer images that he held in his atelier, many of his patrons snapped up the new portfolio for their own collections of his work. He calls that suite Between Thoughts and Things. It was derived from a quote from the English poet and critic, Samuel Taylor Coleridge in Table Talk dated August 30,1827: “A picture is an intermediate something between a thought and a thing.”
An exhibition of 100 works by Robert W. Jensen filled the galleries of Muckenthaler Cultural Center in Fullerton, California. While acrylic on canvas paintings dominated, Jensen, who enjoys working in many media, included a number of drawings, watercolors, and original graphics, i.e. serigraphs, etchings, engravings and giclées, as well as some other experimental digital processes.
The exhibition, which was actually two separate themed exhibits -- Jensen’s interpretations of sports, titled Have You Come to Play? and his reminiscences of world travel, Collected Memories.
Works in the Collected Memories travel section of the exhibition included tulip fields in The Netherlands; the gardens of the Pavlovsk Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia; the roses of London’s Hyde Park; the Luxembourg Gardens of Paris; scenes from Jerusalem and the desert of Israel; canal boats in Berlin; St. Peter’s Cathedral; the Prado in Madrid; Switzerland; Singapore; a Memorial Day Parade in Chicago; the gardens of the Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens in San Marino; and numerous southern California scenes.
The Huntington Library works were reproduced as a series of note papers that were sold in their gift/book shop. Jensen has hung six paintings in the Nixon Library and Birthplace, all renderings of their grounds, which were again reproduced as note papers for their gift shop. The note papers are well known in charity circles since Jensen has donated them for use at events for Sonance, Los Angeles Beautiful Foundation, the Footlighters, the Los Angeles Philanthropic Foundation, the National Arts Association, and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis.
In contrast to his Impressionist works, his large abstract cascading shapes of color have gained nearly equal attention. When asked about the seeming conflict of these two styles, Jensen replies “There is none. Those abstract shapes are meticulously worked out and are the skeleton on which I build my representational works as well. Sometimes pure color and line are enough to convey what I’m trying to say, as in Integration Los Angeles. I think it very clearly states the complexity of the multicultural puzzle that is Los Angeles.”
“If there are themes to my paintings,” says Jensen, “it is simply the natural beauty around me, including the people who inhabit that beauty. I visited China, so I painted those scenes. I visited Europe and Mexico, and a series of paintings were the result. Because California abounds with flowers, my paintings do also. I’ve been accused of being a painter of ‘happy’ scenes. I confess to seeing the positive side of things.”
Not surprisingly, Jensen is a collector of all manner of art objects. When the collection began to reach proportions that exceeded his capacities, he decided to share these things with others through another web site: thediscriminatingcollector.com. Simply click on the underlined address to visit the site.
Robert W. Jensen died at his home in West Hollywood on Friday, September 21, 2018. His long interest in all the arts and ability to paint the beauty that surrounded him produced not only individual paintings and limited edition prints for private and public collectors around the world, but also reproductions of many of his works as illustrations in books, ranging in subject matter from his first visit to mainland China to another on youthful athletics and still another on USC’s Trojan Marching Band.
Born on a farm in Central California, Robert grew up in Carmel surrounded by a loving mother, brother, aunt, and cousin with only the cousin surviving. In Los Angeles, he is survived by his companion of sixty years, who was also his best friend as well as his business partner, and eventual husband, Keith H. Walker.
Blessed with a beautiful singing voice, as a youth, Jensen was chosen to sing in church and the Carmel Mission, as well as many school events. That led to further study at Los Angeles City College and roles in many local productions. He became a pop recording star on Tops Records (it was then that he took the stage name of Jerry Madison) with Merry, Mary becoming a minor hit, putting him on the cover of DeeJay magazine. Another top recording was Von Hutch, the Mad Russian Pinstriper. The photo of Robert by famed photographer John Engstead was his favorite. He joined Eleanor Powell’s act that played all the top night clubs in the U.S. and the Ed Sullivan Show. That success led to a similar tour with Janis Paige. He went on to do the Tennessee Ernie Ford Show and the Dinah Shore Show. He toured the country with Raymond Massey, Tyrone Power and Judith Anderson in John Brown’s Body.
His spare time was spent painting, and eventually became his primary love, resulting in works in collections and museums, most notably one painting, titled The Weigh In, in the Butler Institute of American Art in Youngstown, Ohio. Other museums that have exhibited his work are the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, Redlands University, the United States International University in San Diego, the Pacific Asia Museum in Pasadena, the University of Southern California’s Helen Lindhurst Fine Art Gallery, the Brooks Museum in Memphis, Fullerton’s Muckenthaler Cultural Center (which has a definitive web site devoted to his work), as well as a number of other U.S. museums as part of the Art for the Parks program. He worked with numerous charities in Los Angeles, including Sonance, Los Angeles Beautiful Foundation, the Footlighters, the League for Children, the Los Angeles Philanthropic Foundation, the National Arts Association, and the Freedom Foundation of Valley Forge, donating his art work and note paper reproductions.
Working with his partner in their firm, Jensen & Walker, Inc., they provided public relations for The Hyatt Foundation’s Pritzker Architecture Prize for thirty years, which included arranging ceremonies for prize recipients at the National Gallery of Art and the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and many foreign locations including The Hermitage, Versailles, and other notable buildings in Japan, China, England, Czech Republic, Mexico, Turkey and Israel. For the 20th Anniversary of the Pritzker Prize, Jensen created a special exhibition for the White House where the ceremony to bestow the prize was hosted by President and Mrs. Clinton. That same exhibit was shown at Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, as well as the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg.
He designed fabrics for the interior decorating field, one of which was featured on the cover of Designers West magazine. More information with details of his life and work will be available later this year with the publication of his biography; the book, titled Robert W. Jensen, a Life in the Arts. His parting words in the book are: “Surrounding yourself with the beauty that is all around you is not a luxury, but a necessity. Ignoring beauty is unforgivable. Seeing, collecting, and recording it is a valued life achievement.” His always cheerful outlook was a comfort to all who knew him. He is already missed and will be forever, but he will live on in our memories. His ashes were buried at sea as was his wish.