Student Spotlight: Eric Jensen

Portrait of Eric Jensen standing in an art gallery with two of his paintings.

In this episode of Confluence, we hear from Eric Jensen, an MFA student studying painting. Jensen is a landscape painter with a passion for the natural world, an interest he cultivated while enjoying hobbies like mountaineering and rock climbing. A major theme in his work is accurately portraying the intersection between art and science. He hopes his work will encourage people to pay more attention to nature as a way to enrich their lives.


There was a very significant moment in high school. I was just mixing color for an assignment. Realized that I was happier than I had been in like a really long time. Like it was just so fulfilling and satisfying to get color to do what I wanted it to do.

I'm Eric Jensen and I study Painting in the Fine Art department. And I'm a grad student. 

There are a lot of people in my family who paint as hobbyists. But I've always, I've always just kind of been drawn toward it and it's been one of the things that I'm better at so I've always continued to take classes or whatever. Something about painting always called to me. I think it's cause you just, you're just playing with color. I think it's like the purest expression when it comes to color that an artist can use.

I was originally born in Utah, but I grew up in Virginia. Went to school out there—Virginia Commonwealth University. It's a well-known public arts school. It's got a great program and I did painting and printmaking out there. At VCU, I was an abstract painter and was doing some like weird cityscapes and interiors and other just like crazy abstract paintings and a lot of 3D stuff too. It wasn't actually until I had graduated and had kind of stepped away from the art world a little bit that I realized I wanted to be a landscape painter. I'd started to get into mountaineering and climbing and I'd been backpacking for a long time before that. And worked for the forest service fighting wildland fire and being on a backcountry trail crew. And so, you know, I was getting a lot of, a lot of that natural influence and was realizing how important that was to me and how important that could be to other people.

I can paint fully representationally, but I like to blend things so that what's happening in the piece is more about the, it's more about nature, about the systems and functions of nature than it is about how pretty it looks to us. I think I'm trying to get across the, the complexity of nature. That, that there's so much going on there. The more you pay attention, the more you learn, and the more you realize that you don't know. A lot of times I feel like, you know, with the, the history of landscape painting, I feel like typically has this air that we do know what's going on, that we're masters of it or something. And I want to change that narrative and have our relationship with nature be more honest and more objective.

I think there's a number of aspects about our society, about the way that we live life. You know, there's some, there's some obvious ones, climate change and global warming. The way that we, treat the environment and the resources that we have, you know, we're destroying the planet. We also live in a way that is very simulated. You know, it's artificial, you know, we have climate-controlled environments and food whenever we want it. You know, most of us have no idea where it comes from. So, I think a lot that my work is about is trying to get us back to a more natural mindset, a more natural way of thinking.

I just think that we should be paying a lot more attention to nature in an objective way. And then if we do that, it'll enrich our lives in ways that humans have been experiencing for a long time, but I think that we've gotten away from that.

Julia Galloway is my advisor. She's one of the ceramics professors. Julia's work is very much in this vein as well. She’s doing a project where she's putting all of these different endangered animals on urns that, you know, would be used for, used to contain the ashes of a deceased animal, of a crem-, cremated loved one or whatever. So, she's making urns for every endangered or extinct species. And she works with a ton of scientists and is very hands-on with that. But hopefully she will help me steer my work a little bit more in that direction.

Honestly, you know, if I could, if I had the time, I would totally hang out and pick up a geology and a biology degree while I'm here or at least dabble in it. I'd love to work with some of, or at least talk with some of the grad students that are in those fields and just see what they, what they have to say about what I'm doing and what their, what their views on the combination of art and science are and what they say the potential is.

Although I'm still searching out how to best integrate science with my work. And I, so far, I find that the awareness of it is the most important thing.

I would love to get involved with different conservation agencies and, you know, be able to use my work directly as promotional tools or to be displayed in their offices or anything like that. That would be pretty cool. The national parks do artist residencies. It would be awesome to be able to travel around to a bunch of those and do residencies in multiple parks. I think that if I can maintain an image as a landscape painter who's doing what I'm doing, I think that I can contribute to a lot of different programs that are trying to raise awareness about conservation and climate change and the natural world, things like that.

So, I think if I could somehow help with those issues then I would rest very easy.