"This pool of pixels is like a collection of data. 3600 Keys have been recycled, popped off, cleaned, some dyed, and placed together to create this beauty. Words spelled out with the keycap characters, hidden throughout: “Data 1.03,” "The ballot is stronger than the bullet. -Thomas Edison" and "I failed my way to success. -Thomas Edison""
- Erik Jensen
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Upcycled Computer Keys
44" x 44"
Salt Lake City, UT
“People will tell you that you are a crazy dreamer because they don’t believe in you. But crazy dreamers believe in themselves and prove they are not a crazy dreamer by making it happen. So be a crazy dreamer and make it happen.”
Erik Jensen is an innovative artist who utilizes used computer keys to create unique, captivating artworks that encourage others to reuse, recycle, and spread beauty. Growing up, Erik was the baby of the family among 10 children. He explains, “Because I couldn't hear, I didn't talk for a long time. Thus art became my first language. I would use art to communicate my ideas and things.” Creativity gave young Erik the opportunity to express himself.
As he grew, he became influenced by other important figures in his life. After transferring from a Deaf program school to a public mainstream school, he had an art teacher who guided and inspired him. She encouraged him to tell stories through art, which resonated strongly with Erik. He explains, “Today I don't only tell stories with the overall outcome of the artwork but also with letters of the keys within them.”
In college, Erik studied art and found his current medium through a challenge from one of his art professors. While attending Utah Valley University, his professor encouraged the class to take something people don’t want and turn it into something people do want. With keys from an old computer keyboard he had lying around, Jensen created a face coming out of a computer screen. This project intrigued him, and led to years of experimentation.
“I've heard that to be a master artist, you have to spend at least 10,000 hours working on your art. For me and my art, I decided I will do 1,000,000 keys in artworks to consider myself a master at it. I believe I'm currently at about 800,000.”
Erik taught high school art classes for a few years, but continued to pursue his computer key art on the side. He started out using only the natural color keycaps, but he worked to develop a successful dyeing recipe over the next couple years. Once this dying technique was perfected and his pixelated image style emerged, his business began to blossom. In 2017, he took the leap to become a full-time artist, marrying his interests of creation and recycling.
Erik started out recreating images, such as animals, with his computer keys. To design, he plays with the pixelations on computer programs until he reaches a composition that speaks to him. It is a delicate balance to arrive at the correct design. He explains, “Often, I don't want to pixelate so much that you can't tell what it is, but I also don't want to pixelate so little that it's entirely obvious.”
Erik has since pivoted to recreating landscapes and master artworks as well as creating abstracts that look like colorful, pixelated computer pixels. Erik explains, “Each key has its own personality expressed by shape, color, depth, etc. Placing these keys together gives a pixelated beauty from the front and a mesmerizing texture up close and on the side.”
The process to create his masterpieces is long and arduous. Preparation includes collecting keyboards, popping out and washing the keys, dyeing each key – often many times to achieve the desired hue, formulating the design, and finally, putting it all together by hand. Months of work goes into each piece, but each one is special to him, and he keeps his mission of recycling at the heart of his motivation.
Erik is inspired by recycling and turning “waste” into beauty. He shares, “I want the planet to be taken care of so I can continue to make art from everything. Recycling is just cool. I feel it's my calling to keep doing it; keep recycling.” He enjoys how unique it is to use computer keys as his medium, with their rich history and influence in technology. He shares, “People look at my art and never have thought of making art out of keyboards. I can inspire people to look at things in a different way. That's what artists do.”
His practice has also caused him to embrace different perspectives in his own life. He’s learned that with recycled computer keys, some are unsightly, while others are beautiful. “At first glance, I don't want to use the ugly ones, but I am reminded that in real life, some days are ugly or not great and some days are good.” These blemishes encourage Erik to let go of perfectionism and embrace the flaws. “When I look at the whole art I can't see the ugly, slightly blemished, or not the exact color I wanted, I see a piece that came together beautifully just like our lives,” he shares.
Thinking towards his future, Erik hopes to continue creating recycled art, building strong relationships with clients, and creating impactful installations. One of his dream projects is to create a computer key wall full of advice that people want to share with others. When he is not creating, he enjoys spending time with his wife and three children, gardening, cooking and watching T.V. He looks forward to the new connections he will make through the ArtLifting community.
ArtLifting champions artists impacted by homelessness or disabilities through the celebration and sale of their artwork. Learn more here.