Material Ethereal November 18 - December 21, 2018

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 dabbling with appropriation, Jacobsen highlights his interest in technology and the differences, if any, between simple tools 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?”

In Through the Outside September 25 - December 21 2017

We opened our current show Paul Jacobsen “In Through the Outside” and Berlin Deko, a collection of furniture, lighting and objects by German architects from 1910 to 1930 this week with a stellar turnout and the installation will be on view through November 18th in our 105 Warren Street gallery.All of the works ( 5 oils and 2 large scale charcoals ) evoke a sense of the life Paul has made here in the Hudson Valley. Initially, the drawings appear to be straight forward renditions of the wild weeds that envelope the artist’s studio and the acreage surrounding his home. But on closer observation, we notice that Jacobsen has imbued a gorgeous elegance and given a quiet stillness to the lucky ones chosen as subjects.  By separating these particular specimens  from the rest of the knotted weed sprawl which has a grand presence on Paul and Laura’s land, we are given the opportunity to stop, be still and notice every detail that the Milkweed, Nettles and Sumac have to offer. Strength and delicacy coexist within the drawings reminding the observer of the many mysteries, struggles and unexpected wonders that the land in Germantown constantly reveals.

Each of the 5 oils  produced specially for this exhibition tells a different story and reflect the ongoing ideas and observations Jacobsen has grappled with while living on the land and incorporating into his work. UNTITLED LANDSCAPE, 2017 and UNTITLED CRYSTAL, 2017 are perhaps most closely associated with the charcoal drawings because of the predominate use of black and white but whereas the artist gives an expansive amount of freedom to the wandering weeds, Jacobsen cleverly traps the viewer into his exact  perspective and mathematically precise observations of the land, it’s distance from us and, at the same moment, by adding elements of the real world ( dangling crystals, portraits, flags, everyday kitchen items and tools ) the artist reminds us that the land actually supports our physical existence.  All of this beauty is seen through the pin point precision of a lens and is encapsulated within the artist’s hand painted frames.

William Morris and Herman Melville serve as intriguing subject matter for Jacobsen. Both of these iconic figures represent the artist’s continued fascination with historic men and their relationships with their respective crafts. Morris was and English textile designer, artist and writer and is most closely associated with the English Arts and Crafts Movement. A close friend of Morris and his wife, Jane Burden, Phillip Webb the architect designed, for the couple, a house in the rural countryside which Morris wanted to be “Modern” but would portray a spirit of the Medieval which is exactly what Webb delivered. Their new habitat was named Red House and Morris spent 2 years decorating the place with the help of artist friends. The rug which Paul Jacobsen designed and was crafted by Equator Production is, in a sense, an homage to William Morris and to his illustrious patterns which were most popular in the wallpapers and textiles he continued to design throughout Morris’s life. The small portrait UNTITLED, WILLIAM MORRIS is an example of Jacobsen’s painterly use of bright colors and juxtapositioning of the figure seen up close, dangling from a thread and push pin and the lush landscape which supports the figure and creates a tension between the foreground and background. Illusion is hard at work here as is the precise technique the artist is so adept at which ultimately pulls the viewer in.

Jacobsen’s UNTITLED (PORTRAIT OF HERMAN MELVILLE) is directly related to chapter 42, the Whiteness of the Whale where Melville describes the voids and curiosities of the universe through the metaphor of the White Whale. In essence whiteness is not so much a color but the visible absence of color. In the artist’s portrait of Melville, Jacobsen incorporates symbols, American Flags, an architect’s compass, a golden crystal which upon close study reveals a small but pure white triangle, all of this painted against a vast, horizontal ocean which harbors the White Whale and provided a way for Melville to set sail on his 3 year journey at sea. The artist, Jacobsen,  has intentionally left images of the whale out of the painting and focuses on the author himself, his symbols and the white triangle containing all of the colors of the universe resting a top the crystal . This is an important portrait in context of the exhibition since Melville was a visitor to Hudson and in Moby Dick he uses imagery of the whale to describe man’s relationship to nature in terms drawn from 18th Century Aesthetic Philosophy which Jacobsen also  beautifully threads throughout his work.

UNTITLED ( COOPERS HAWK ) is perhaps the most direct  portrait in the exhibition, a life study of the bird Jacobsen found on his land in Germantown, it’s twisted body still warm from the fall that took place after he flew into a pane of glass and died. Feathers, greenish talons, a tiny black beak and a regal display of soft , gently patterned black and white feathers all became the perfect subject matter for the artist. After taking the hawk to his studio, Jacobsen rearranged it’s body delicately and then respectfully placed it into a wooden box, photographed the body before any signs of rigamortis set in, preserving the beauty and dignity of death. The portrait is gorgeous, reminiscent of and Old Master work painted with the hand of brilliance.

Mourning Flags January 12th – February 18th, 2017

Galerie Tanja Grunert is pleased to present Mourning Flags, Paul Jacobsen's fifth solo exhibition with the Gallery. For the past 8 years, Jacobsen has been making his "Charcoal Flags," framing them in charred wood, and allowing the charcoal used in drawing work to run. This form of art not only addresses political concerns, but draws the viewer's attention back to the meanings of the materials used to pro duce the work. In Mourning Flags, Jacobsen will continue his series by installing a group of his charcoal drawings of black flags. Since the 1880's, the black flag has been an authoritarian symbol, representing the absence of, and opposition to the nation state.

This past year the world has been subjected to the spectacle that we call democracy, causing many to question the proper role of government. Jacobsen argues that Democracy and Authoritarianism are not mutually exclusive. Although America has been far from egalitarian since its genocidal beginnings, Jacobsen believes we just added another embarrassing chapter to the book of history. In Mourning Flags, the work is not focused on the ideals of an economy with worker collectives, consumer cooperatives, or an end to the military-industrial complex. Instead Jacobsen wants to display a moment of silence and mourn all the hard fought victories of native, civil, women’s and gay rights that are now threatened more than ever, as well as the environmental and labor protections that are already being gravely attacked under this new regime.


Spirit Orbs March 31- April 30, 2016

Galerie Tanja Grunert is proud to present a solo exhibition of all new paintings by Paul Jacobsen. In his latest series, the artist visually investigates the phenomena of the spirit orb.  Dissimilar to earlier works’ subject of the lens flare, these are not the artifact of light refracting through the cameras lens and have a much more highly debated origin.  

In paranormal circles these are believed to be visible evidence of spirits.  In the new age community these spheres of light are thought to either be souls showing the mechanics of life after death, perhaps ourselves traveling outside our bodies, guardian angels or connected to the idea of a collective consciousness. However many see the orb as simply the presence of dust, moisture or even insects close up to the lens and caught by the flash or other strong light source.  The belief in the “ability” to capture other worlds through photography is nothing new dating back to the 19th century spirit photos (subject of a recent exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art) and that belief still persists.  

In the subject of the orb Jacobsen uncovered an opportunity to connect with artists of the past that drew inspiration from the spiritual, mystical and occult.  These include William Blake with his strange planetary orbs and eclipses, Odilon Redon’s vibrant and ethereal colors which influenced Jacobsen’s wide use of pastels in these works and Hilma Af Klint with her geometric representations of complex spiritual ideas. Beyond these few examples, the captivation with the perfection of the sphere and significanceof the circle is clearly present in Medieval and Renaissance paintings, drawings and illuminated text.  The circle has been used in art to represent all heavenly bodies, the sun (the imperishable spirit), the moon, the earth and even the sky has been shown as a circle.  The stars as a whole have been symbolized as a circle by the zodiac.  The sphere has also been used to personify cosmic time, in these orbs Jacobsen recognizes the ancients fascination with the Macrocosm.  The importance of orbs in human attempts to understand the great mysteries can’t be overstated.  

Accompanying the paintings, there is an installation of a salvaged wood structure directing the viewer’s eye upward into the cathedralesque gallery.   In the past exhibitions, Jacobsen has built cabins (one of which doubled as a camera obscura), he has also segmented spaces with wood beams to simulate domestic interiors and hand built vernacular.  For his latest exhibition, Spirit Orbs, Jacobsen takes the architecture of the church as inspiration placing an X’ed and arched divider in the back two thirds of the gallery creating a chancel to surround a virtual alter for the large scale painting on the back wall.

Paul Jacobsen was born in Denver in 1976. He grew up in a family of artists in a small mountain town in Colorado and moving to Brooklyn at a young age he has split his time between the two ever since. Forgoing a formal art degree Jacobsen has taken classes in Florence at Lorenzo De Medici Instituto de Arte, studied privately with realist painter Daniel Sprick and worked for Artists such a Jeff Koons and Rudolf Stingel . Typically working with traditional mediums such as oil paint, charcoal and pastel, Jacobsen investigates the intersection of civilization and technology. His works have been exhibited at MASS MoCA and the Aspen Art Museum, among other institutions. Jacobsen lives and works in Brooklyn, New York and Rico, Colorado. 


Outpost May 1 – May 29, 2015

David B. Smith Gallery is pleased to welcome New York-based artist Paul Jacobsen for his second solo exhibition at the gallery, opening on Friday, May 1. In Outpost, Jacobsen’s new body of work records scenes from a year when societal boundaries where crossed and personal dreams set into motion. The paintings in this exhibition continue and expand on the ideas of Jacobsen’s 2014 exhibition, “Lean-to,” which featured artworks that invited viewers to contemplate still life images of interiors from the artist’s domestic spaces and black and white arrangements from the artist’s work space. While seemingly traditional still lives, the works served as the artist’s subtle critique of industrialized society. The content and technique speak to Jacobsen’s attempt to insulate himself from this very type of industrial environment and modernist influences.

Jacobsen purchased a miner’s cabin in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado just prior to the legalization of marijuana, and the paintings in Outpost serve as documents of his experiments in growing this newly legal plant. In these still lifes, the marijuana plant is the central focus against a dark background, along with wild mushrooms collected on long hikes and crystals gifted from friends. These paintings hearken back to traditional Dutch paintings of tulips, itself a coveted plant in its day. Deploying the technique of lens flare, Jacobsen highlights the importance of the camera, while also referencing the religious, spiritual, and cultist motif of light symbolizing the divine. The usage of this “heavenly” light on these cannabis plants both humorously references ideas of the “sacred herb,” while serving as homage to this new law regarding marijuana - Jacobsen sees this as an innovative first step towards ending a global war on drugs.

One central work in the exhibition is an installation of wooden beams and stacked wood, referencing the artist’s cabin and adjacent dynamite storage shack that served as starting point for this body of work. This rural “outpost” – a self-imposed hermitage, provides a remote seclusion from modern industrial society. Jacobsen’s retreats to this reclusive space serves as a semblance of freedom from society and the possibility of self-sustenance, evoking the western, pioneering spirit of homesteading, and seeking the “American Dream” along the next frontier. Jacobsen’s work is interested in the stories that the objects of the material world hold and the stories within our living spaces.



Lean-to March 2-April 06, 2014

Gasser Grunert is pleased to announce the opening of Lean-to by Paul Jacobsen. 

Lean-to is conceptualized in three parts, one contained within another. The expanse of the gallery is taken over with a constructed architectural intervention of wood beams stretched across the space. Painted, grisaille representations of the artist’s studio are hung within these supports. Continuing “through” the show and stepping over and under the wooden armature, viewers will be faced with intimately scaled, colorful still life paintings from the artist’s own, hand built domestic spaces. These colorful still lifes are repeated within the grisaille paintings, and the wood beams are the same reclaimed wood the artist used to build his studio, and the cabins and shanties in which he resides. 

Having grown up between Brooklyn and Colorado, Jacobsen’s personal history infiltrates much of his aesthetic, which is inspired by the architectural salvage of Red Hook, Brooklyn and the handmade hippie constructions in the foothills of Colorado. All of Jacobsen’s houses are created in a patchwork fashion, cobbled together using reclaimed wood and found fixtures in an assemblage like manner. Jacobsen currently lives in a backyard shanty in Red Hook that is heated by a wood stove with no running water. The backshack, as it’s affectionately called, does have electricity, but its footprint is a mere 12 x 17 feet. In 2010 Jacobsen built a cabin on wheels at Majestic Farm in Sullivan County, NY. The only amenity in this cabin is a small wood burning stove and colorful turkish kilims that line the walls for insulation. In Rico, Colorado, the artist recently acquired an old miner’s cabin in the San Juan Mountains, just outside of Telluride. Locally sourced antique quilts and rawhide chairs adorn the small cabin. These spaces and their furnishings function almost like time machines and rally against what Fraco La Cecla called the “plasticification of everyday life.” Inspired by William Morris, Jacobsen seeks to create these structures as a way to introduce beauty and pleasure to his daily pursuits and labors. They represent the artist’s intrinsic beliefs in regards to architecture, or anti-architecture, and the way in which objects affect our lives. 

Jacobsen’s interest in alternative architecture, design, and assemblage led him to consider a way in which these elements could be combined with a deep love of painting. He was inspired by the late18th century painters who would often employ grisaille to create the illusion of sculpture or relief, and has used this technique to bring these interests to the forefront of his work. In this show, the colorful still life paintings themselves become the subjects of Jacobsen’s larger grisaille paintings, expanding the frame or parameters of a single painting. This gesture is further extended into the space by framing the entire exhibition with salvaged wood beams. The partitioning of the back gallery echoes the dimensions of the backshack exactly. Jacobsen’s purposeful shift from objects to paintings and back again, propagates the fluid intersection between labor, aesthetics, and material. Much akin to Bonnard’s interiors and Monet’s gardens, or even to Rembrandt’s complex set constructions within his studio, Jacobsen has constructed the cabins, shanties, studio assemblages, and still lifes that have become the subject of his paintings. 

Mouthpiece, November 17th – Saturday December 23rd, 2011

Klemens Gasser and Tanja Grunert are pleased to present “Mouthpiece”, the second solo exhibition of Paul Jacobsen at Gasser Grunert gallery.

By definition, the word “art” suggests human workmanship - the very opposite of nature’s workmanship. Within this framework, the vision behind traditional landscape painting’s efforts to depict the sublime is a thinly veiled human construct with a dark sub-narrative of western colonial expansion that accompanied the mastery (and depiction) of nature. Jacobsen rails against this constructed separation between humans and the notion of nature as other. His new work takes the form of lushly painted but unfinished vignettes of pristine landscapes, an artisan wood cabin doubling as camera obscura and a portrait of his mother pregnant with the artist.

As the natural world loses acreage and is replaced by nostalgic simulations, so diminishes our ability to distinguish mediated experience from reality. In Jacobsen’s paintings, the sections of raw linen and quickly painted gesso stand in sharp relief to the highly finished sections of painted greenery. The romantic vision of nature ends abruptly within each painting but the artist then reintroduces elements harvested from the environment affixing wood beams to the paintings’ edges as armatures and frames. Represented nature and totems from nature are collapsed in this revisionary take on landscape painting, and questions our perception of what is natural.

Jacobsen’s cabin is the centerpiece to a collection of artistic luminaries rendered in graphite, handbooks for radical visions of society and personal artifacts. They symbolically come together as commodities in a store display, projecting a candor and genuineness we readily associate with the quality and value guaranteed by the commercial goods of popular culture. Centrally positioned in this display is an American flag projected upside down through the camera obscura - a blatant call of distress, framed by a roughly assembled collage of portraits: cultural players of mass control. Jacobsen’s camera obscura calls attention to our growing dependency on the transient forms of technology and addresses how perceptual shifts can create harmony or discord.

The exhibition culminates in a portrait of the artist’s mother referenced from a 1976 vintage photograph taken during her pregnancy. Looking into his origins and commodifying his own life, as artist, vanguard, hippie, and intellectual, he acknowledges the inevitability of commercial exchange and the domestication of individuality and free-thinking within the current cultural system.