“I’m not that into flying,” Toronto-based visual artist Joshua Jensen-Nagle says. The assertion may come as a surprise to those familiar with Jensen-Nagle’s body of work, in particular the aerial photography captured from the overhead perspective of his helicopter studio, which venerates balmy beaches in Montauk or the Mexican Riviera and the ski hills of Lake Louise and St. Moritz.
“I’m very nervous about every aspect,” he says of capturing wanderlust-inspiring scenes from up in the air. “[But] as soon as I get my eye into my viewfinder, and I’m scanning and looking for the composition that I want…as soon as I see it, I know.”
Jensen-Nagle has built a career specializing in capturing both the serenity and energy of a location. It’s a quality that can stimulate an intense sense of longing in those who gaze upon his pieces, whether or not the viewer has actually been to that particular locale or not.
The subject matter of Jensen-Nagle’s most recent exhibition at the Bau-Xi Gallery’s Toronto location, Dreams I Never Forgot, focuses on the intoxicating promise of travel. In his artist statement for the show, Jensen-Nagle claims that travel is his lust, not his love. “Love is passion and compassion. I have no compassion for travel,” he writes, highlighting transit woes and customs delays. Yet his intention to capture the vast beauty of our planet allows Jensen-Nagle to set aside any unpleasantness and revel in the gleeful anticipation of getting away. Shot pre-pandemic, the photos include captivating images from the Amalfi Coast and Bondi Beach, with colours ranging from the deeply saturated undulating waters and bathers’ jaunty accoutrements to the faintest sandy hues. They are the colours of nature and the colours of life.
Collectors Karen Lee and Cielito Ward found themselves drawn to Jensen-Nagle’s mastery of cultivating travel-centric nostalgia when they acquired their first piece of his work over a decade ago, a beach scene with a smattering of colourful polka dots overlaid on top. “I fell in love with it immediately,” Lee says, noting that she laid eyes on it on a cold day in early February. “I was desperate for that sense of escape. This was something that could bring the notion of escapism to our home.”
Fast forward to a recent trip to Canouan island in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Lee recounts a moment of serendipity. They happened to be waiting for the same chartered flight as Jensen-Nagle, who was in the Caribbean to photograph a new series, and got to strike up a conversation. Such coincidences are the essence of travel and Jensen-Nagle’s raison d’être as an artist. “You can do as much research as you want, and you can have an idea of a place,” he says. “But until you’re there, you don’t know what’s going to happen.”
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