Utah Man Recycles Keyboards into an Art Career

Jun 2, 2019, 10:35 PM | Updated: 10:44 pm

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — You don’t always have to look very far to find the key ingredient to a new career. Erik Jensen of Salt Lake City just looked under his fingertips.

Jensen turns old computer keyboard keys into the pixels of pixelated keyboard art.

It began with an assignment in a college art class – to take something people don’t want and make it into something they want.

Erik Jensen with his artistic medium

Erik Jensen with his artistic medium

Jensen had an old computer keyboard and popped off the keys and made a sculpture.  The instructor encouraged him to make more.

Eventually Jensen devised a way to dye the lighter keys and put them on a canvas and created a new position for himself – as a keyboard artist.

He’s earned millions of views on George Takei Presents and other websites and enough work to allow him to leave a teaching job for an art career.

It all starts with a pile of 15-hundred keyboards on his mom’s back porch.  Jensen says most keyboards end up in the dump, so he collects them and employs his mother to pop the keys off.

To date, Jensen says he’s used about two thousand keyboards, or 170-thousand keys, in his art.  His goal is to use a million keys.

He turns the keys into his own original pieces and into great works of art.  At a recent exhibit, those included Van Gogh’s Starry Night, Vermeer’s The Girl with the Pearl Earring and Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam.

Erik Jensen with his Michaelangelo

Erik Jensen with his Michaelangelo

Stand back and see a masterpiece. Look close and read quotes, spelled out with computer keys, from the great masters.

Starry Night quotes Van Gogh:  “I dream of painting and then I paint my dreams.”

In the Michelangelo, the words of Michelangelo:  “If people knew how hard I had to work to gain mastery, it would not seem so wonderful at all.”

Jensen, looking at the big picture, says his one-of-a-kind career fits into his tendency to be unique.

Artist Erik Jensen

Artist Erik Jensen

“I like to be different,” Jensen says.  “I think life is too short. And you can’t just be normal and boring. I’ve always lived my life that way.”

That’s why he rides a unicycle, and not a run-of-the-mill one-wheeler, but a long-distance unicycle.

Jensen is planning to ride his unicycle across the county to raise money for deaf students.  (He’s already made a practice run from Provo to Canada.)

Jensen, who is deaf but can hear using a cochlear implant, says he feels lucky. He was a finalist in the Deseret News Sterling Scholar program and that earned him a college scholarship. According to one study, about 19 percent more hearing people earn bachelor’s degrees than people with hearing impairments.

Reconstructing The Great Wave with computer keys

Reconstructing The Great Wave with computer keys

He says he took to art early in life because of his hearing impairment. He was slow to learn English, so art became his means of expression.

“I tell people that art was my first language and English is my second language because I didn’t speak very well until five,” he says.

He says now his hearing impairment isn’t a disability, but an “able”-bility.

At work in the studio, he turns his implant off.

“I don’t hear anything, I’m not distracted,” he says.  “And so I can think.   My brain goes all over. It really helps to be in that silence.”

“I love silence.  Silence is my music.”

Jensen and his art will be appearing at the Utah Arts Festival in Salt Lake City June 20 – 23.


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Utah Man Recycles Keyboards into an Art Career