Marcus Jansen is born in 1968 in an East Harlem's Manhattan Metropolitan Hospital, while residing in the South Bronx. He observes his first subway trains passing by his family’s Boynton Avenue residence in the Soundview neighborhood of the Bronx, and first sees the cartoonish characters and writings appearing on otherwise drab subway trains that permanently changed the city’s visual environment.
Jansen is raised alongside a brother by his mother from Jamaica and father from Germany. His family moves to Laurelton Queens. While attending PS 156 in Queens, he is included in a New York City student art competition and exhibits a stunning painting of a male lion on paper at the Lever House, in Manhattan, at age 6. This serves as Jansen’s introduction to the world of art hung for the public to see.
Jansen leaves New York City shortly before the explosion of the punk rock and hip hop art scene, and is transplanted from the Big Apple to Moenchengladbach, Germany, his father's birthplace, and placed into a German-speaking school. He faces linguistic challenges as the only child of color in his town, but excels in art and sports more so than academic subjects.
Jansen revisits his native New York during the important 80s cultural art movement over the summers, to return in 1982. A rebellious graffiti art movement in the 1980s dominates the city, and is Jansen’s first major influence. He becomes involved in art forms of the subculture and quickly adopts graffiti and dancing as a vehicle of communication, at the same fascinated with how art has altered the modern urban landscape.
The 14-year-old Jansen encounters a book about Robert Rauschenberg in a Moenchengladbach, Germany train station, and although he has never heard of the artist before, was fascinated by the cover depicting instruments mounted on wood in golden color. They exude a strong urban inner-city feel that he has never seen before.
Growing up, Jansen experiences challenges with viewers understanding his paradoxical cultural influences between Germany and New York, and seeks to find other means of bridging social, cultural and economic class differences in his art. Politics, current events and world history were at the forefront of discussions initiated by his historian father during much of Jansen’s upbringing.
It is the vibrant German Expressionist painters and upcoming graffiti artists encountered during travel to Paris, Amsterdam and Brussels, and the new action painters from New York that leave their strongest imprint on Jansen. Attracted by movement, color and motion, he is still drawn to these impulsive, rebellious avant-garde painters, and sees a common thread between the graffiti artists and contemporary masters that he explores in his work, creating a bridge of communication.
Jansen believes that impulsive and subconscious work is a direct reaction to the oppressive politics and economically disadvantaged and regimented environment from which it arises. He states, “In a civilized society, the society is forced to renounce instinctive behavior; it is up to the artist to bring it to the surface in reasonable ways.”
Manhattan-based graffiti writer WEST Rubinstein, aka WESTONE, who has already made his mark as noted in the book Graffiti Kings, by Jack Stewart, meets Jansen in New York City in 1986. WEST encourages Jansen to paint, and he cites this meeting as his first inspiration. They become friends and WEST mentors Jansen over the years.
Gravitating toward the instinctive impulse versus what Jansen sees as regimented academics, he completes high school and at the request of his father, attends the Berufsfachschule, in Monenchengladbach, for one year, where he studies art at Kunst/Gestaltung. Exposure to photography, design, technical drawing, paint, graphics and color give Jansen an understanding of basic structure in the arts. He becomes bored and leaves, but like Willem de Kooning, Jansen begins an apprenticeship as a commercial house painter. where he is introduced to oil enamel paints, which remain his medium of choice.
Jansen completes his training and spends time between Maastricht, Netherlands, and Germany. He meets Daisy Dee, former host of the German VIVA TV station Club Rotation, in 1987 at a nightclub. She becomes Jansen’s biggest supporter and starts to give him commissions. He travels throughout Europe and is exposed to more art and culture.
The artist decides to enlist in the U.S. Armed Forces in 1989 and is immediately deployed to Desert Storm in August 1990. He returns in April 1991 and is stationed, among many other areas, in “Dragon City”, Dharan, close to the most devastating missile attack during the war. On February 25, 1991, Jansen witnesses the explosion from his tower guard duty and is flown by helicopter to the frontline battlefield toward the end of his tour, where he sees the devastation left by allied forces.
Returning from his tour, Jansen has more questions than answers. He is deployed to Korea at the demilitarized zone for a year and after returning from Korea, undergoes art therapy treatment at Walter Reed Hospital, in Maryland. His artwork gets the counselor's attention during art therapy classes, inspiring Jansen to perhaps paint once again.
Jansen is stationed in Germany for his last duty assignment and serves with the 1st Infantry Division in Vilseck, Bavaria. He moves in with his then-girlfriend Michaela Hansen, an economics major from RWTH Aachen, originally from former East Germany, in Greifswald.
Michaela becomes his wife and the artist’s biggest supporter during the first part of his career. Jansen is becoming more critical of U.S. interventions and attitudes regarding foreign policies and undeclared military interventions as they continue.
He discharges honorably in 1997 with the rank of sergeant after seeing Julian Schnabel’s 1996 film Basquiat. He starts his art career in Aachen the same year, and arranges his first exhibition at Aula Carolina. For the first time since his discharge, he is noted by the Aachener Zeitung. Jansen approaches Dr. Annette Lagler, director at the Ludwig Forum Frum for International Art, for guidance while living only blocks away from the museum. He shares photos of work from 1997 and she shares helpful advice for a newly emerging artist.
Jansen’s longtime friend Daisy Dee commissions Jansen for two works that are later sold to LL Cool J and Babs, cofounder of FUBU clothing and manager of FUBU Europe. He revisits his old mentor WEST Rubinstein in New York, who by now runs the successful PNB Nation clothing line from lower Manhattan, and encourages Jansen to continue his art.
Jansen decides to leave Aachen and returns to New York City to test his work with a larger international audience while having difficulties holding other jobs. He hops around between the Bronx, Queens and Manhattan, staying with relatives while selling his work on street corners. His painting “subway82” is chosen in a NYC Russel Simmons art competition for the semi-final round to show at the Copa Cabana night club, where he meets “Crazy Legs” from the infamous Rock Steady Crew, who admires his work.
The artist sets up on the street corner of Prince Street and Broadway with artist friend Carlos Ramsey to sell their works and becomes part of the group of artists referred to as “Princestreetkings” who display their art on the streets of SOHO. It is then that one of his first buyers, Hollywood actor John Ortiz, purchases “Harlem Deli” (30X40) while filming a movie with Schnabel in Manhattan. He also sells his highest-priced street painting to date for $750 to New York art dealer Monya Rowe.
Considering family life first, Jansen leaves the streets of New York and moves to Atlanta in August 2001 with his fiancé. Two months later, the September 11 attack takes place in New York, where many of his “princestreetkings” friends witnessed the event and leave the city.
Urban art enthusiast and cultural game-changer in Bed Stuy Brooklyn, Richard Beavers, sees Jansen’s work in an ad in The Source magazine. An MTV employee who Jansen encourages to open an art gallery, Beavers becomes Jansen's first U.S. collector and later, his art dealer, and appears in Jansen’s first film. Beavers sells Jansen’s work nationally, but focuses on the Brooklyn community in particular, placing works with NBA New York Knicks all-star Carmelo Anthony and noted collector Peggy Cooper-Cafritz.
Jansen starts exploring the human condition in the post-911 era in his work, paradoxically working with his own experiences and drawing parallels between historic and contemporary worlds using the urban landscape as the stage. In 2003, Jansen receives his biggest commission to date by the Ford Motor Company, in Detroit.
He moves to Florida with his then-wife Michaela and first son, where he continues working, unknowingly in an area not far from where the 20th-Century master Robert Rauschenberg resides.
Jansen has the opportunity to show with Rauschenberg in support of a local Arts for Act charity at the Bob Rauschenberg Gallery in 2004 almost immediately after arriving in Florida and is introduced to him by Grammy-winning musician Kat Epple after Rauschenberg is seen viewing Jansen’s painting and compliments his work.
The same year, Jansen meets art historian Jerome A. Donson. The former director of the famous American Vanguard Exhibitions 1961 that traveled to Europe and included Rauschenberg, Franz Kline, Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning and others, discovers Jansen's work. Donson writes about the artist in Jansen's first French catalog, Marcus Jansen Modern Urban Expressionism, in which he calls Jansen the “innovator of Modern Expressionism” and compares it with Ash Can School.
Jansen is commissioned for a politically critical satire as part of the Warner Brothers 80th anniversary. He is selected for the 12th International Print & Drawing Biennial in Taiwan shortly thereafter, with juror David Kiehl, from the Whitney Museum of Art, as one of only nine other Americans selected in 2007.
He begins painting large-scale works in the post 9/11 era and is alarmed by an emerging surveillance state in 2008 and 2009. Jansen addresses politics, social issues, the patenting of pigs DNA and has a painting included in the New Britain Museum of American Art permanent collection, as well as the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, whose founder, Crosby Kemper, buys three works for his collection.
Robert Casterline, co-owner of the Casterline Goodman Gallery, becomes Jansen’s first international dealer and agent. Novotek CFO Mark Gyetvay, an avid art collector from Naples, Florida, whose keen eye is noted in the Financial Times, becomes Jansen's number one collector, acquiring the extraordinary work “Creeping Obstacles in Kansas”, which later is featured on the cover of the MFA alumni selection in the publication New American Paintings.
Jansen is commissioned by Absolut Vodka, becoming part of the next generation in the tradition of popular of Absolut artists following in the footsteps of Andy Warhol, Damien Hirst and Keith Haring. Chief Curator at the Orange County Museum of Art Dan Cameron selects “Creeping Obstacles In Kansas” for the cover of New American Paintings Volume 94. In 2011, Jansen’s wife and longtime supporter dies after a two-year struggle with cancer, leaving Jansen with two sons to raise on his own. Emotionally and financially bereft, he restarts his art career from scratch.
In 2013, Jansen in named a winner at the Arte Laguna Biennale Prize, in Venice, where he is asked to stage a solo exhibition in Italy for the first time. The show is publicized by Rolling Stone, Arte, XL Repubblica, and ESPOARTE, which proclaims, “A new star is born?” Jansen’s painting “The Visitors" becomes Jansen’s first to ever be auctioned in Milan in 2014; hosted by renowned auctioneer Vittorio Sgarbi, curator of the Italian Pavilion at the 2011 Venice Biennale.
Jansen opens UNIT A Studio and Residency in downtown Fort Myers to honor his wife's death and push his career further. In 2015, Naples Noteworthy calls him “one of the most important American painters of our time.” Jansen collaborates with former Rauschenberg assistant Jonas Stirner in a one-year exhibition at the Jansen studio in Fort Myers and later meets Lawrence Voytek, Rauschenberg’s art fabricator, who performs at Jansen's studio with his band Sonic Combine.
Sabrina Gruber, a musician and pianist, becomes Jansen's partner and primary photographer of the artist in his studios. Her most recognizable photos appear in the Skira Editore book Marcus Jansen DECADE. Jansen’s London dealer Steve Lazarides, aka BANKSY’s first agent, invites Jansen for his first solo show with the Whistleblower Gallery and becomes Jansen’s UK representative.
Jansen’s father and mentor Hans Jansen, perhaps the strongest influence in his formative years dies four months before Jansen’s first solo museum exhibition in Europe at La Triennale di Milano Museum. The exhibition, “DECADE—paintings from the last ten years,” dominates Italian headlines and critics pick it as one of the top 10 shows to see in Italy next to Basquiat, Monet and others. A headline in EXPOART magazine reads, “A New Star is born?” In a review by Italian art critic Igor Zanti.
The exhibition is inaugurated by art historian Dr. Elmar Zorn and curated by Dr. Brooke Lynn McGowan and Rossella Farinotti. Signed Jansen museum catalogs of this first Jansen museum exhibition in Europe were gifted by sponsor Esmeralda Mapelli to Versace and Armani Milan, in Italy.
Jansen's book, Marcus Jansen DECADE, is published by Skira Editore, in Milan. The 10-year retrospective of works is released worldwide and the first International film is made by Emmy-winning filmmaker and director John Scoular, who presents Jansen as the subject of the film Examine and Report, which is later shown at the Fort Myers Film Festival, winning the title of Best Local Film. It highlights the influences that made Jansen's work what it is today; featuring art dealer Steve Lazarides, Robert Rauschenberg's art fabricator Lawrence Voytek, art historian Dr. Brooke Lynn Mcgowan and major Jansen collector Dieter Rampl, chairman of the Hypo-Kunsthalle Munich, Noah Becker, founder of Whitehot magazine, NY, WEST Rubenstein and others.
German art book publisher Hirmer Verlag Munich publishes Jansen's first International German/English language book for his German museum tour in 2017 titled Marcus Jansen Aftermath, including commentary by art critic Prof. Dr. Manfred Schneckenburger; two-time Documenta Kassel curator, who refers to Jansen as “one of the most important American Painters of his generation”; Prof. Dr. Dieter Ronte, former director of the Kunstmuseum Bonn and Vienna; art critic Gottfried Knapp from the Suddeutsche Zeitung; and art curator Dr. Elmar Zorn. Dr. Birgit Loffler, director of Das Maximum Museum in Traunstein, Germany, introduces Jansen’s work to Traunstein, Germany, at the Traunstein Klosterkirche, where Jansen shows a series of retrospective works in its last exhibition.
The Weinstein Gallery in San Francisco shows Jansen’s first U.S. Gallery mid-career retrospective curated by Dr. Brooke Lynn McGowan, who invites Jansen to exhibit in an upcoming Baker Museum retrospective show in Naples. Jansen exhibits 10 large works as a featured artist at the Kallmann Museum Ismaning and a full mid-career retrospective at the Zitadelle Museum, in Berlin, both becoming the first German museums to celebrate Jansen’s work just before his 50th birthday.
Robert Casterline and Jordan Goodman, owners of Casterline Goodman Gallery, decide to show Jansen in a solo exhibition, “Now And Then” in Aspen during the 2018 ArtCrush at the Aspen Museum of Art, where noted collectors Amy and John Phelan purchase Jansen’s work for their private collection. Jansen’s permanent collection works are highlighted in his inaugural U.S. museum feature, “Deconstructing Marcus Jansen,” at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, curated by Jade Powers. Jansen is shortly approached by Curator Dr. Gisela Carbonell to show at the Cornell Fine Arts Museum for his first U.S. traveling museum solo exhibition in 2020 that will also show at the Baker Museum in 2021.
Jansen officially announces the Marcus Jansen Foundation Fund that helps veterans and low-income children in the arts and is commissioned by Pussy Cat Doll lead singer Nicole Scherzinger in Los Angeles. He stahes his first Paris show with DANYSZ Gallery, and in Vienna at Galeri Amart. The University of Michigan Museum of Art acquires a first large Jansen painting, “Hide Out" (84X72) for its permanent collection. Jansen has his New York Film Premiere at the East Hampton TV Festival with his film, Marcus Jansen Examine and Report, by John Scoular, winning and award for Best Art TV Pilot Documentary, and is featured in an artist profile in The Epoch Times.
Jansen returns to his native Bronx and opens his second studio in Port Morris/Motthaven.
He shows at the top two Asian art fairs, Art021, in China, and Teipai Dangdai, in Taiwan, with Galerie DAnYSZ while preparing for his first U.S. solo museum show at Cornell Fine Arts Museum at Rollins College in 2020 and a retrospective survey at the Baker Museum in Naples, in 2021.