The other boat show was a series of boats the artist made in order to bury his friends and family.
It began with his best friend, Sylvain. Sylvain made a drawing of a boat and gave it to Jensen. He asked Jensen to carve an urn for his ashes based on the drawing. A month later, Sylvain died from complications related to AIDS.
Not long after, Jensen's father committed suicide. Jensen's mother remembered Sylvain's beautiful boat, and wanted one like that for Jensen's father. Jensen made a boat for his father, including shells from the gun he took his life with. They conducted a Viking burial at sea. His father was Norwegian and had been a fisherman and a boat builder.
Jensen's mother fell into grief. She asked her son to kill her with sleeping pills. But Jensen couldn't do it. Instead, he took the pills himself. The artist survived, but spent time in the hospital—and shortly after he got out, his mother died on her own: she had forced herself to stop eating. Another boat. She was buried at sea, with her husband.
It was not long before John, Jensen's partner of 20 years, died of complications from alcoholism. His burial boat included a vodka bottle. He asked to be buried at sea with Jensen's parents.
Now, after all that, Jensen is making art using skills he'd never intended to learn, from making boats to send off all his closest friends and family members.
His gallery show uses heavy materials for heavy subjects: glass, rusted steel found on beaches, tiny portholes, bronze, chains, recycled wood. Also at the gallery is the sole copy of a book Jensen made with images of the burial urns he made.
I began the Voyager series to help me deal with my own grief and loss, and with hope to provide relief for others dealing with their own sorrow. I made this work as personal as possible because death is such a sensitive subject for so many people. I felt that by exposing myself and my family, the viewers of this work might feel more at ease. ...
I created the boats in this series approximately the same size as the actual boats we used for burial. Carved in wood, painted, or sculpted, this work is a direct result of these experiences. Death is the one final thing we all have in common.
Courtesy Friesen Abmeyer Fine Art
Steve Jensen, Levitating (2012), oil on recycled wood; 26 by 40 inches.