Anna Jensen is a 35-year-old artist from Ashville, NC, USA. Her ‘psychological landscapes and emotionally complex narratives’ in acrylics remind of the humor and pathos previously mastered by great expressionists and later manifested by pop artists. A brief look at her paintings make you relate with her ‘autobiographical’ revelations that find a space and setting with masks, music, wine, childhood, nudity, etc. These elements make her work vivid and piercing. The titles of her canvases are apt and amusing- mostly self-explanatory and poetic at times. Anna’s paintings have been featured in many print and online magazines as well as in exhibitions and galleries all over the US. In our simple interview below, Anna talks in detail about her life, work and things that make her creative and inspired:
Please tell us about yourself and things you do and like beside painting:
My name is Anna Jensen. I’m a painter from Atlanta, GA currently residing in Asheville, NC. I am a self taught full time working artist. Besides visual art I love cinema, music, literature, theatre, my dog, yoga, and running. I also really love learning in general: historical or scientific facts (have been known to memorize trivial pursuit cards as a hobby); as well as learning through nonfictional storytelling: other peoples’ experiences…heartwarming or gut wrenching personal tales. I listen to a lot of informative radio programming and podcasts while I do work around the house and sometimes when I paint. Usually it is music which is crucial to my painting practice. It energizes me to get started and motivates me to keep going when I feel like throwing in the towel or calling it a day. Music is to blame/credit for many a late, late night in the studio.
I always had creative inclinations. When I was probably 6 years old I had a vision while at my friend Cecilia’s house. I turned a box fan flat on it’s back, laid a sheet on top and dumped an entire jumbo sized container of baby powder on top of the surface, then turned the fan on. It covered the entire room in a thick white dusting of powder. It was glorious. Of course I was smacked by Cecilia’s mom and sent home immediately, never to be asked back. But I don’t think I liked it over there anyway, so it didn’t turn me off from art making.
What is your artist’s statement and why does your art echo disturbances in a humorous fashion?
My paintings are psychological landscapes and emotionally complex narratives. I combine references to art history, pop culture, natural science and personal chronicles to represent the conflicts of life. The titles are important elements. Like me the stories are at once funny and sad.
My art allows me to survive, honestly. So it affects my outlook on life by giving me hope that I might possibly have a future which is not consumed with nearly intolerable internal discomfort. Not to be too dramatic about it, but I definitely went through the wringer as a younger person. I had fallen off of the creative path as a teenager when I discovered drugs and alcohol. It took me a while to find my way back to it, but ultimately art saved my life.
I’d say that my personality is definitely reflected in my work in that I gravitate toward combining humor and darkness, charm and indelicacy… a refined nature within or including moments of extreme mess. I guess I find comfort in reflecting what I am experiencing in life: the most awful tragedies and atrocities surround us while simultaneous majesty of nature and human kindness occur. And I find humor in so much of civilized existence. Life is very funny. People are absurd. Our habits and hangups, everyone’s kooky personalities. Especially those who think they are the most normal. But, people of all walks/types respond to my paintings… which I love! The squarest of squares and the freakiest of freaks; creative expression brings us all together to relate. It’s bigger than one person.
I generally just dive into the unknown each time. I make a mark and then respond to it. It’s like improve that way. A lot of “Yes, and __”. Then before I know it a story evolves. Most of my paintings are pleasant surprises to me. It can be scary starting off in the dark like that. But, it has proven to be worth it every time. Sometimes a painting will take years because that unpredictable happy accident doesn’t happen right away. I have to marinate on the piece for a while. And then sometimes they come together quickly like an explosion. Some days working feels like jumping off a cliff and other days it feels like opening Christmas presents. There is a fair amount of tedious, “fleshing it out” time as well. But, that part is meditation for me: painting a background pattern for three weeks, that sort of thing.
I paint in acrylics because I like to work fast and I usually paint where I live/sleep so it’s less toxic. And the clean-up is easier. Also, being self-taught, I found that the acrylics were more self explanatory. I would really love to work in oils someday when I have a proper studio space and more time to experiment or take a class.
Do you have a favorite project or a work of art having a great story behind it?
One of the only narrative paintings (see below) I’ve done that was entirely based on a photograph is “A Foreboding Shadow Befell Her So She Drowned Her Future Sorrows”. I found an old picture of my mother, my sister and myself celebrating some holiday. Although the photo contains allusions to suffering in store for me individually and for my family as a whole, it is also filled with nostalgic elements and lots of love. It was a treasure trove of great painting material and a remarkable gift from the Universe for me as an artist. The spider hanging over my mom’s head is in reality a leftover Halloween decoration. As a young adult dealing with her sudden and untimely death, though, it seemed ominously symbolic. And what was simply a double exposure on the left side of the photograph read to me as the foretelling shadow mentioned in the title.
I went on to have a dangerous relationship with alcohol throughout my coming-of-age years. Although in the actual scene I was surely consuming sparkling apple juice for the festive occasion, I played up the darkness under my eyes and kept the red-eye from the camera to help get the point across. I painted my mother’s name into the clock face since it was too blurry in the photo to make out the clockmaker’s name (one of those happy accidents). The pattern on the wall was typical of the decorating style in my childhood homes. Patterns are important in my work for that reason. So, this snapshot contains a lot of meaningful facets and I’m grateful I was given the honor of turning it into a painting. I miss my mom every day and it is certainly the greatest tragedy of my life losing her so young and so abruptly. It doesn’t remove the pain of that loss to immortalize her in my work, but it’s what I got and it helps.
I would say one of my biggest achievements as an artist was pulling off my solo show in Paris, France last July. I was invited by the curator of an avant-garde gallery to come and put on a killer show in a city I had long revered. The opportunity came about thanks to a feature in a blog like this one. It was quite an endeavor and all in all a great success. I brought 23 pieces with me and had a life changing five weeks that I am still processing. I learned quite a lot, sold quite a few, and made some priceless new friendships in the process! It was harrowing at times, however, and I thought as I left “I don’t care if I ever see this city again”. But now that the overall experience has settled within me, that notion has all but vanished. Under the right circumstances I would go back in a heartbeat!