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THE ART GALLERIES

La Cienega Area

January 24, 1986|SUZANNE MUCHNIC

The urge to try to explain the late Alfred Jensen's paintings is almost as strong as the impulse to just enjoy them. His bright-colored, rough-textured grids, charts and diagrams are as much fun as Persian carpets or Byzantine mosaics, but they are so beset with intriguing conflicts that they can seem utterly baffling. It's reassuring to find experts saying that idiosyncracies shroud his explorations of various systems in eternal mystery.

Influenced by Goethe's and Pythagoras' color theories, Mayan calendars and the Chinese I Ching, Jensen made art that appears simple in structure but complex in concept. In a current show, 19 oils (from 1959 to 1978) mesh arcane systems with accessible painting, pristine pattern with impasto, austere skeletons with raw surfaces, logic with emotion. If there's such a thing as a systematic expressionist, Jensen must be the original.

The exhibition presents a bracing variety of works, from a vibrant little quilt-like grid, called "The Four Elements" (1959) to the massive, three-panel "Physical Optics" (1975), an actively orchestrated assembly of stripes, rotating circles and arrows. A vast painting called "Changes and Communication" is composed of modules with numerals growing by increments of two on concentric rectangles. Several smaller works on paperboard are based on solar calendars.

What's important about all this is Jensen's muscular demonstration of faith in modern art's concern with reason. It doesn't matter whether or not you figure out his logic. It does matter that he has cleared your head and opened your eyes in the process of looking at a substantial exhibition of the sort that's only offered in our galleries a few times each season, if we're lucky. (Daniel Weinberg Gallery, 619 N. Almont Drive, to Feb. 15.)

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