Joshua Abelow: I’m thinking we keep this thing casual and just shoot from the hip to see where it goes. So with that in mind, I know you’re from Norway and I’m wondering if that means Edvard Munch loomed large when you were first discovering painting?

Jens Pettersen: It's not until recently I've started looking a bit more intently at Munch. When I was younger, he felt quite inaccessible and quite hard to 'get'. He is not taught in the basic art historical curriculum in school, Dusseldorf school romanticists are more heavily favored. Munch is perhaps too much of a Parisian, or a strange shut-in. I also remember there was an internal propaganda campaign where Norwegian institutions were trying to make Bjarne Melgaard the next Munch -- maybe that 'take' needs more time to marinate, but that lineage felt strange to me. However, I remember being struck by the painting Self-Portrait in Hell (1903) -- mostly because of the title, I always found it really funny. There is also the painting The Murderer (1910) that I really love. There is something really enticing with Munch dipping into the horror genre. I find it so compatible with the scene in Fincher's Zodiac. Where Z stalks up the hill by the lake -- This fast, daytime, upsetting vignette has so much incredible tension that is hard to analyze and pinpoint, it's super floaty and malleable.

JA: Super floaty and malleable – those are good words to describe what I’m seeing in your new paintings. Would you agree?

JP: Yes! I’ve been thinking of painting as record keeping — the immediacy of the notation that happens within the mark making. But there is also ‘stretchiness’ within that notetaking. I’ve always been interested in photography’s notion of acknowledging whatever happened before and after the image was taken. I try and think of that within painting too, the notion of images continuing after the interruption of ‘completion’. There is that provisional idea too of the complete masquerading as incomplete.

JA: I used to spend a lot of time thinking about the relationship that photography has with painting, particularly since experiencing paintings via photography on screens is very much the norm and has been for twenty years. I know so many young artists who were exposed to contemporary art images and dialogue on screens and therefore have the screen in mind at all times. At some point in the last handful of years, I noticed that moving images (screens) have replaced static images in just about every public space imaginable. I like to think about the qualities that make paintings interesting as opposed to the qualities that make images interesting. Not that they are mutually exclusive, not at mall, but I do think that more and more, I see painters/artists making images rather than paintings if you know what I mean? Something that I like about your work is that you seem to be interested in painting as well as images and how they can intersect in unexpected ways. What would you say is the most pressing issue (if there is one) that compels you to make the paintings you are making?

JP: I think the reason why I paint is because it allows me to move my body and create an immediate record of that movement. The immediacy of the action is what draws me to paint. Painting allows for strange and hypnotic moments where the burden of creating something cool or even interesting gets thrown out the window. As you said, the representation and just the ‘making’ of ‘images’ in paintings becomes too tedious and uninteresting for me — i love images, but i prefer them placed in a different vessel, so that I can let the painting be a painting.

Jens Pettersen's stick to sports opens Saturday June 22nd with a reception 2-5pm, everybody welcome.
Artist Profile: Jens Pettersen interviewed by Joshua Abelow
Jens Pettersen, Spring Fling, 2024, oil on canvas, 66 x 60 inches, featured in Stick to sports.
Jens Pettersen, photo of Norway.
Jens Pettersen, Untitled, 2024 oil on canvas, 17.5 x 17.5 inches, featured in Stick to sports.