Ancient Look Via High Tech

A unique process allows painter Robert W. Jensen to capture the texture of ancient Oriental wood blocks with a computer and a laser printer

FOR a man who is a direct descendent of Daniel Boone, bypasses TV dinners, and writes his letters in longhand, Robert W. Jensen's fondness for tomorrow's technology is intriguing. When Mr. Jensen, an American impressionist artist, paints, he usually reaches for a brush and canvas. But today, he also often steps into the future using a computer and laser printer.

The California native has perfected a unique process that gives an Oriental wood-block effect to his landscapes.

``My search to capture a scene with more than brush or palette began a few months ago when I was traveling throughout China,'' he says in an interview at his Los Angeles studio.

``From Shanghai to Xian, from Beijing to Hangzhou, I sketched China today, against a backdrop of its centuries-old temples and countryside.

``When I came home to my studio, I began a series of 35 paintings for my forthcoming exhibition, `The Waking Dragon Beckons,''' which begins a tour this fall at the United States International University in San Diego, Calif.

Jensen's paintings, ranging from 30-by-40-inch watercolors to 7-foot square canvases done in acrylics, provided spectacular color scenes, but he still wasn't satisfied.

``I wanted to find a modern process that would capture the tone and texture of an ancient Oriental wood block. I never thought I'd discover it by using a computer and laser printer.''

It was when the artist began working with the ColorTouch Processor, made by Texas Instruments, that he discovered this unusual technique.

Although the primary use of ColorTouch is preparing mock-ups for advertisements and brochures in commercial art, the artist began to convert black-and-white laser-printed images to color.

``I felt a little like a `Trekkie,' going where no man has gone before,'' Jensen said of his experiments. One art critic suggests that Jensen has, with this technology, crossed into a new dimension for art.

Equally exciting for Jensen was the challenge of using the latest laser breakthroughs to capture his impressions of one of the world's oldest civilizations.

As Jensen explained, ``I placed one of my sketches on the scanner, which digitizes the image into electronic bits so my computer can `read' the image and store it in memory.

``Displaying the image on the screen, I could modify the lines, even reverse the image. I ended up printing both positive and negative versions on the laser printer.

``Using the color films supplied with the processor, I tried a collage technique, laying different colors over certain areas of the laser print.''

By painstaking trial-and-error, he discovered that using the reversed image allowed some interesting texturing and overlapping effects. Once the colored films were in place on the laser image, it was passed through the processor, which, with pressure and heat, transformed the black areas to colors.

Perhaps nowhere is this process more effective than in his scene of the terra cotta warriors at Xian, China - the spectacular archeological discovery near Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi's tomb, where a vast army of life-sized, sculptured soldiers were unearthed. Their weathered faces, the texture of their uniforms, and the drama seemed to come alive in this laser-print process.

Jensen has, with this technology, created the same kind of innovation that David Hockney achieved using Xerox machines.

It is not surprising to find Jensen capturing one of the world's oldest civilizations with one of the most up-to-date techniques. A few years ago, he won a Pacifica Award for his unprecedented use of rotary silk screens for printing on cloth. This past year, one of his landscapes was selected for the National Arts for the Parks touring exhibition. Jensen has been represented for years by Galerie Marumo in Paris, which specializes in French Impressionist art and where Jensen is the only American artist.

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