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West Valley City Journal

West Valley creator uses discarded keyboards to make mesmerizing mosaics

Jul 22, 2019 03:56PM ● By Amy Green

Erik Jensen brought his artwork to the 2019 Utah Arts Festival in June, where many got to view his computer key murals. (Amy Green/City Journals)

By Amy Green | [email protected]

Many have experienced a toddler or clumsy adult in the house ruin an expensive computer by picking keys off the laptop or spilling liquid down sensitive circuitry. One accidental mishap and electronics are quickly annihilated. (Blame the kids even if it was you who put the coffee mug too close to the keyboard). Is this valuable home electronic now a worthless piece of de-cybernated junk?

In this generation of reuse, recycle and rethink, Erik Jensen, a West Valley artist, does not see a fried, sticky or retired keyboard as garbage. Jensen’s computer key art has been described as “pixelations,” “typo pointillism” or “modern mosaics.” However described, his art is a quality representation of the old adage, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” 

In June, Jensen brought his work to the 2019 Utah Arts Festival in downtown Salt Lake City, where many got to view his murals. It’s hard to pass by his exhibit without taking a second look and stepping closer. He has been a previous People’s Choice Award winner at this show. 

Jensen graduated from UVU in 2017 with a bachelor’s in art education. “In college, I was given an assignment to take something people don't want and turn it into something people want. I created a sculpture using computer keys. My professor was very intrigued by it and encouraged me to do more. I had a few ideas over the next couple years that I researched and attempted. Doing the computer key murals is what I chose to stick with and perfect,” he explained. Jensen accomplished his education with a disability that can be significant in trying to pursue schooling and a career.

Being deaf, language was always difficult for him. “Art was really my first language. It's allowed me to express myself. Pursuing art also helped me (when I got a cochlear implant) to dive into high school, because of a phenomenal and inspiring teacher who encouraged me every day. I was a finalist in art for Sterling Scholar, which landed me a full-ride scholarship to UVU, allowing me to continue my dream of doing art. Now, while I work in my studio, I do not wear my implant so that I can let creativity flow in silence and focus on the beauty of my art.”

In his quietude, Jensen accumulates and sorts the square pieces, rearranges and treats them with an artist’s magic. “I am more about the process than the outcome of my artwork. I first collect keyboards from e-waste companies (they can't recycle the key caps anyways). I pop them off and clean them. Then I use a dye process. That took a couple years to figure out how exactly to do, without ruining the keys and keeping the characters on them. Next I put them into the designs that I have chosen or been commissioned to do. I also build my own frames and install the artwork in them. To me, the process is the art,” he described.

The cast-off numbers, letters and symbols—those simple half-inch tiles—he mixes up to form views of galaxies, animals and famous landmarks. The outcome is mesmerizing.

“I'm just a friendly guy in the neighborhood that's taking garbage and transforming it into something beautiful,” he said. “I'm always telling people that life’s too short to be normal and boring. So do something different and embrace it.” 

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