Somewhere at the crossroads between the early 20th-century practice of collage and the ancient art of shadow play, Jens Fänge has developed a surrealistic matryoshka-like aesthetics, which consists of assembling paintings within paintings. A master of eclecticism, he precipitates – so it seems – an entire hierarchy of genres into his composite works, converging iconic portraits, still lifes, domestic interiors, cityscapes and landscapes with geometric abstractions, all of which he renders using a variety of mediums and materials such as oil paint, pencil, vinyl, cardboard and fabric on panel. The contoured, often cut-out protagonists of the artist’s re ned pictorial plays appear as if drifting into these multiple stage-like layers of representations overlapping each other, which give rise to an intricate, possibly endless maze of shifting perspectives not only within each composition but also within each series taken as a whole.
Indeed, Jens Fänge’s praxis revolves around the notion of shifting perspectives. He would like us to imagine that all the compositions of his series depict a single scene as if remembered by different people, perhaps on different occasions, ultimately from different points of view, although of course, this is never literally the case. While the artist is openly inspired by early Renaissance painting, when linear perspective wasn’t just yet perfectly geometrized, a closer look into his actual creative process is essential to understanding the subtlety of his own perspectival twists. When preparing a series for a show, Jens Fänge doesn’t complete one painting after another. He works on all the compositions at the same time, which he spreads out onto his studio’s floor. The backgrounds of his panel paintings usually receive an abstract dynamic rendering of colorful planes or geometrical forms colliding, which gives a hint of three-dimensionality. Like empty stages, these are only the starting points for the artist’s dramas to unfold. His perspectival twists gradually come to life once he begins moving around and shifting cut-out figures, architectural elements, design patterns, as well as smaller paintings from one panel to the next until they reach in his eyes their final destination. Not unlike plate tectonics, as far as such a radical metaphor can go, Jens Fänge’s overall assemblage process is very slow. Yet we know what seismic shifts end up causing to the Earth’s crust.
Whereas the repetition and distortion of akin figures, motifs and patterns create a lingering sense of déjà vu by ways of visual echoes throughout all the paintings of a series, the bits and pieces of Jens Fänge’s composite works have each a perspective of their own, which either complement or contradict one another. For example, the gaze of the cut-out or portrayed characters, as well as their bodily position, further complicate the artist’s constructions by opening onto multiple directions. In doing so, what they draw is an increasingly puzzling sense of narrative progression, understood that as much as the viewers’ impulse may be too fancy possible whereabouts for the figures drifting into Jens Fänge’s intricate maze of paintings within paintings, the artist’s story lines essentially follow mere vanishing points, whether within or beyond reach. As a matter of fact, while perhaps noticing the ends of some cut-out elements discreetly peeping out of their frames, ready to break their illusory walls – that may be a character’s foot or the single step of a stair –, one wonders whether the viewers themselves wouldn’t be the ultimate part of Jens Fänge’s perspectival plays, the last wandering souls shifting their points of view from one piece to the next in search of lost points of convergence.
Born in Gothenburg (Sweden) in 1965, Jens Fänge lives and works in Stockholm. His works have been exhibited many times in Scandinavia, including at the National Gallery of Norway in Oslo, the Gothenburg Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art – Moderna Museet in Stockholm. Fänge’s paintings have been included in international exhibitions, such as at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tucson (USA). His works can be found in the collections of the Swedish Museum of Modern Art – Moderna Museet and the Magasin 3 in Stockholm or at the Gothenburg Museum of Art ; as well as in private collections such as a permanent installation at the headquarters of H&M in Stockholm, or in the collection of the European Central Bank in Frankfurt. In 2014 and 2015, Jens Fänge also executed an original work for the Nobel Prize in Literature of Patrick Modiano and Svetlana Alexievich.
Violaine Boutet de Monvel