When the software company she worked for during the tech boom was bought out eight years ago, Grethe Jensen decided that it was a good “opportunity to see what I wanted to do next.”
“I tried different art forms,” she said. “But I decided that I really wanted to play with colour. Colour is what fascinates me, and the best way to play with colour is to paint.”
Asked if during her work in the corporate world she dabbled in art, Jensen recalled that she had always been a hands-on person, working with crafts, sewing clothes, or doll making, even a period of getting hooked on ceramics and pottery-making. “But,” she said, “I decided to wait until I could do it properly.”
Jensen was living in Markham at the time of her artistic awakening, and thought it might be better to be closer to where the proverbial action was. She explored various neighbourhoods in Toronto, looking for a suitable home that would also act as a studio space. “It [the studio] had to be above ground…with natural light.”
She found the perfect place on Blantyre, and has lived there for the past four years. Her home is a compact semi with an interior that has been transformed so that what was once a large bedroom at the rear of the house, is now her bright studio space. The floor in this space is covered with a protective vinyl matting to absorb paint drippings, the large south-facing window is draped with a white sheet which softens the bright natural sunlight. Several half-finished canvases are scattered about the room, and one on the easel bears a strong resemblance to the artist herself. She admits to experimenting with a self-portrait, and points to the mirror on the opposite wall.
Some of Jensen’s most striking works involve portraits of a sort. They are larger-than-life, brightly coloured acrylics (her sole medium) that are so impressionistic as to almost be abstract. You sometimes have to look twice to find the face in the piece.
“I start with a live model to get at the piece’s core structure,” she said. Then she will set the canvas aside for awhile and work on another. “I need to establish a communication between myself and the canvas.
“I don’t think it is necessary that a painting tell a complete story,” she said. “I think the viewer tends to establish their own conversation with the work. If I show a piece to five people, and they respond in the same way, then I’m telling too much. I’d rather get five different responses.”
She illustrated her point with one of her popular paintings of Toronto streetcars. The viewer cannot see the route number or name clearly, the lighting is dark and the background is hazy, so that it’s unclear where in the city the street car is. There are no recognizable landmarks – storefronts, street signs, nothing.
“I’ve only had one person who actually knew where the painting was from,” Jensen said.
One of the things that drew Jensen to this area was the number of artists who live here. She spent three years on the waiting list before joining the Beach Guild of Fine Arts, and has, along with fellow artists Felicity Somerset and Callie Gray, formed LuminArt, a smaller collective of East End artists. She also holds life-drawing sessions in her home studio every Thursday. There’s a live model, and two three-hour sessions; one in the morning and one in the afternoon.
“Life drawing is like going to the gym for artists,” Jensen says. “And for me it’s a way to participate in the local arts community.”
Jensen will be part of the Beach Guild of Fine Arts’ annual Art Down by the Bay exhibition, Sept. 21 to 23, at the Beaches Lions clubhouse at the foot of Coxwell. This year marks the 18th anniversary of this popular fall art show and sale. More than 40 artists will be showcased in two exhibition halls. The upstairs space will be full of large, original works of art. Many of the artists will be on hand to chat. The downstairs space is devoted to smaller originals (usually unframed), prints, gift cards and the like. This is a great place to buy gifts, or begin a collection of works by Beach artists.