Welcome back to The Jewels of Apator, Ann and Jeff VanderMeer's column about the intersection of art and the fantastic. Bruce Jensen is an artist whose work you've probably seen more times than you can remember. Over seven seasons, his art montages formed the backdrop to hundreds of segments on the CBS show 60 Minutes II. Jensen has also done cover art for such classics as Neal Stephenson's Snowcrash and The Diamond Age. His work tends toward bold color choices, using a style that can be whimsical or more severe, recalling the architectural surrealism of an artist like Magritte.
As you might expect, creating distinctive backdrops for TV is very different from art in other contexts. Jensen says:
Art directing evening news broadcasts in the 80's-90's made me focus on clean, readable, and stylish graphic design. Each [60 Minutes] story begins with a studio introduction in front of artwork—in a 'magazine'. The executive producer and director gave me incredible freedom. Time was the biggest challenge. Three illustrations a week, was quite a lot of work. In seven seasons I probably made about 650 to 700 illustrations. Another challenge is that unlike an illustration in a magazine, you couldn't linger on it. On average the work I did was gone in thirty to forty-five seconds. Perhaps that's not a constraint in execution, but in satisfaction it certainly is!
A number of classic SF artists have influenced Jensen, including Paul Lehr and Richard Powers, whose work, he says:
is fundamental to my appreciation of SF art. I respond to surrealism and ambiguity...Another artist from the same era I really liked is John Schoenherr. His compositions are masterful. Michael Whelan was the artist of another generation that next most influenced my work. He has an uncanny knack for composing an image that feels true to the book in a specifically narrative way. I remember seeing his "Foundation trilogy" paintings in a Boskone artshow, this is before the paintings were published, and I just knew that they were for those books.
(For more on Jensen's thoughts about book design, check out this cool MindMeld feature from the always lively SF Signal.)
From 1984 to around 2000, Jensen used acrylics on illustration board, with occasional forays into oils and mixed media. But Jensen's work in television news eventually led him to computers:
Over time, I started using the computer for my book cover sketches. I worked with tight comps in acrylics but learned that digital sketches could be much more efficient for pre-visualization. On a few occasions, I used digital images in parts of my final work. The covers for Neal Stephenson's Diamond Age and Snowcrash were both mixed media. Each had portions rendered digitally, which I photographed and collaged into the final illustration.
Jensen is still ambivalent about the use of computers for art:
There are some really wonderful aspects to digital media in making an image but, I still have a high regard for the 'object', the physicality of a painting. Hanging digital prints in an art show has always left me unsatisfied.
Despite, or perhaps because of, that ambivalence, Jensen has often been associated with cutting edge SF, especially as he does very little fantasy art:
Through the 90's I think my work was often associated with cyberpunk themes and I really enjoyed that. I've often found myself working with visual elements that touch on AI, virtual reality, nanotechnology, genetic engineering, technology of that sort.
That said, his latest project, which he calls "alien menagerie" (see the gallery) is often as fantastical as SF-nal. Interestingly, these paintings mark a "return to traditional media" for Jensen. A single painting from this series, displayed at the Microvisions 2 show at the Society of Illustrators, made it into the best-of art anthology Spectrum 15, to be published this fall.
Bruce Jensen [official website]