Save for their aggressiveness, the abstract paintings of Bill Jensen, now at the Phillips Collection, don't have much in common with the fashionable pictures that one tends to see on the fast track in New York. For one thing they are small. Most are less than two feet square; they don't try to gobble walls. And there's nothing glib about them. These rhythmic, intense pictures have none of that fey distance, that "Am-I-being-serious? Wouldn't-you-like-to-know?" stance of knowing irony that afflicts so many paintings thought of as postmodernist.

Jensen's works are slow -- slowly made and slowly read. They don't hit you all at once.

Much Manhattan painting is painting about speed. Jensen's works are different. They make you think of growing things and gradual unfoldings. They conjure up a time that is not our time only. They reach into the past.

They do so through the homage they pay to Arthur Dove and Albert Pinkham Ryder and other mystic masters, and by the way they shun the zip of the straight line and the shine of the machine.

Murky and encrusted, they make one feel that hard-edged art -- despite the recent burp of retrograde and vapid neo-geo painting -- is running out of steam. The abstract forms Jensen shows us are insistently organic. They make one think of bones and shells, of worlds seen through the telescope, of tendrils and of pods.

Jensen -- who was born in Minneapolis in 1945, who has been painting in Manhattan since 1971 -- has Georgia O'Keeffe's knack of playing tricks with scale. He makes vast shapes appear miniature, and small things monumental. When Jensen paints a spiral, you have no sure sense of its size. Is that turning, growing form a plankton or a ram's horn, a whirlpool or a galaxy? Or is it meant to conjure up all these things at once? That sense of scale shifting -- now leaping into vastness, now condensing into tininess -- helps make his pictures feel alive.

Laughlin Phillips, director of the Phillips, begins his catalogue foreword by saying that "Bill Jensen is just the sort of artist whom my father most admired: Fiercely individualistic, inspired and driven by a highly personal vision . . . and serenely removed from art world fashion." Curator Eliza E. Rathbone, who put the show together, writes that "for the Phillips Collection, which exhibits contemporary works of art bearing a strong relationship to its own collections, the art of Bill Jensen is an obvious choice."

The rightness of those claims is immediately apparent. Jensen's patient meditations, the compression of his paintings, their mystical connotations and the way they transmute nature's forms, echo through the gallery's permanent collection. His pictures are bound tightly -- in scale and in spirit -- to the clouded Ryders, the Doves and the Marsden Hartleys that, to make the point, have been handsomely displayed in the galleries next door.

Jensen's paintings are not pretty. Unlike Arthur Dove's, they make no effort to ingratiate. Jensen's poetry is harsh, and his forms are sometimes ponderous. But the painter's authenticity is never much in doubt.

He releases only about 10 pictures a year. The painting he calls "The Lamb" is dated 1977-83-84, the one that's titled "Legion" is dated 1976-1984. It is not that he is particularly meticulous. When he wants to, he can paint as fast as any action painter. But he does so rarely. He prefers to wait, and wait some more, now scraping off the paint, now adding in a passage, until his picture seems to tell him that, at last, it's done.

That sense of speed and slowness blended is especially apparent in the conjured presence and the sudden drips of "The Black Madonna" (1978). That haunting little picture, which, Rathbone notes, looks "more like a fetish than an icon," was "scraped down and reworked repeatedly until the final image was executed very fast, and entirely with a cheap little glue brush."

In the '60s, in Minnesota, the catalogue informs us, Jensen met Michael Goldberg and Ed Dugmore, two highly accomplished second-generation abstract expressionists. In New York in the '70s, he worked as an assistant to Ronald Bladen, that least facile of the minimalists whose resonating sculptures (say, the great "X" that he built in the '60s at the Corcoran) linger in the memory for years after they're seen. Goldberg, Dugmore, Bladen -- as much as Dove and Hartley, these fashion-shunning artists seem to stand like guardians just beyond the orbit of Jensen's works of art.

That sense of orbiting, and summoning, is crucial to his art. Even when they're centered, his compositions don't just sit there: Their energy is centrifugal. And they pull in memories as they spin.

Their titles help them do so. Look, for instance, at the forms of "The Seed of the Madonna" (1978-79). Is that glowing disk of yellow a halo or a sun? Is that feathered form upon it some remnant of the wing of the announcing angel? Is that scraped-down, whitish oval form some transcendental egg?

Jensen's pictures, though abstractions, are always open to allusion. As one looks at serried peaks of "The Trench" (1982-83), the mind skips from a canyon found underneath the sea to the dragon's teeth of myth, onward to the concrete tank traps of our wars.

The darkness of these paintings ties them both to Ryder's moodiness and to the shadows of Manhattan. Jensen's forms may be organic, but sunshine rarely warms his worlds. His is not outdoor art.

Rathbone, in her thoughtful catalogue, tells a curious little story about the darkness of this show. It seemed that Jensen asked Guy Goodwin, an artist friend, "how he obtained the quality of murky light in his work" and was told "the secret was not to clean your brushes. {So} he stopped cleaning his brushes."

These pictures feed on shadows. Whether they suggest entrails or insects or War-of-the-Worlds clashes, they avoid the single reading. All of them evoke energies and forces only partly seen.

A grant of $36,872 from the Lannan Foundation helped pay for the Jensen exhibition. The foundation wants its grant-receiving institutions to "feature the work of emerging or under-recognized living artists," to "give established contemporary artists exposure where their work is not represented" and to fund exhibits that help recipient museums "feature and interpret" their own collections. There is no doubt that Jensen's show nicely fills the bill.

It will travel to the Lannan Museum, Lake Worth, Fla., after closing at the Phillips on Dec. 13.