signs and symbols is pleased to present Material Ethereal, an exhibition of new work by artist Paul Jacobsen. Challenging the idiom of the photograph with painterly form, Jacobsen’s new body of work questions authorship/viewership/reproduction as he combines painterly technique with the photographic medium to find poetry and order in the otherwise mundane, the common tools.
For his solo exhibition, Jacobsen has created a series of small-scale paintings (14 x 11 inches) based on Walker Evans’ 1955 photographic series, Beauties of the Common Tool. At one-to- one scale of the originals, Jacobsen’s works at once reproduce Evans’ photographs with painterly perfection and at the same time present a slippage through the addition of his signature photographic lens flare to the composition. While this holographic supplement of the lens flare presents the specter of difference, interrupting the camera’s claim to the infinite repetition of the same image, so does it lend the humble the painterly gesture of a divine light. The hammer, wrench, pliers: all are suspended in isolation upon a grey field; each act as archetypal everymen of human endeavor, proposing a subtle political critique and elevating labor from the profane to the sacred. As in Evans’ photographs, the textures of the materials and richness of the tones abstract the images from all but a nominal consideration of their subject matter. Jacobsen’s painterly still lifes—their realist depiction of not only the original photograph but also the object of the tool—create a trompe l'oeil effect of the original, while the addition of the lens flare draws attention to the photographic act itself, the tool, the camera lens, and the viewer’s own eye.
While taking directly from Sherrie Levine’s appropriative series After Walker Evans, Jacobsen’s paintings concern themselves less with questions of authorship as they do the practice of viewing through the self-referential use of the lens flare. How does the presence of the camera alter spectatorship? This implication of the self within the socially normalizing practices of surveillance demands how this epistemological technology might have become so ubiquitous, surpassing even dark, Orwellian prophecies concerning the closure of privacy or intimate space? Although the lens represents an integral part of the technological industrial internet apparatus crisscrossing our planet, it remains fundamentally a common tool, dating back hundreds of years, enhancing a natural optical phenomenon. In Jacobsen highlights his interest in technology and the differences, if any, between simple tools dabbling with appropriation, and advanced technology, asking where the camera fits into such distinctions.
Yet, if Jacobsen’s works are poetic, they are also personal. During the time of production for this exhibition, Jacobsen’s focus turned to inheritance: to what his father left him, his tools, exploring how what we receive culturally becomes the building blocks for what we do and achieve. To paraphrase Malcolm Gladwell, sometimes a single idea has to pass through many minds to be complete. The work of culture, art and ideas is sometimes multi-generational. Jacobsen notes, “as I finished these oil paintings and was able to stand back and look at them, I saw new ideas take form. The full spectrum lens flare over the black and white image gives a sense of two opposing forces; the material and the ethereal; and eludes to the enhanced vision of the psychedelic experience. To what extent is our vision of the material world a function of our mind?” paul jacobsen was born in Denver, Colorado in 1976. He grew up in a small mountain town in Colorado, raised by a family of artists. Drawing on his youth in the rural American West, Jacobsen considers the intersection of nature and technology in a multimedia body of work that references intimate personal experiences, countercultural rituals, and the aesthetics of Americana. In lush, somewhat satirical still lives and landscapes that employ traditional painting styles and photographic techniques, Jacobsen offers a bucolic, sublime escape from contemporary consumerism, industry, and innovation. Foregoing a formal art degree, Jacobsen studied in Florence at Lorenzo De Medici Instituto de Arte and was head painter in the studios of Jeff Koons and Rudolf Stingel. His works have been exhibited at MASS MoCA and the Aspen Art Museum, among other institutions. Jacobsen lives and works upstate in Germantown, New York, and Rico, Colorado.