OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Anna Jensen

She Would Rather Imagine Herself Relating To An Absent Person Than Build Relationships With Those Around Her
Acrylic, goldleaf, glitter, and oil stick on canvas
60"x 72"

Van Gogh, Picasso and Andy Warhol meet family snapshots, Britney Spears and Mister Rogers in ANNA JENSEN's densely-patterned, psychological landscapes. Anna is deeply in touch with the Jungian shadow. She expertly balances humor and darkness, referencing her personal biography in a way that points to a universal, human vulnerability. Anna attended the University of Georgia in Athens and Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Georgia. Her work has been featured three times in Studio Visit Magazine and on The Jealous Curator. She has had solo exhibition at Honour Stewart Gallery (Asheville, North Carolina), Dockside Gallery (Atlanta) and, most recently, Nouvel Organon (Paris). Anna lives in Asheville, North Carolina.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Could you talk generally about the balance of funny and sad in your work? How do you know when you've got it right?

Anna Jensen: I generally start painting without any conscious intention. A painting can begin as a figure drawing or me riffing off of a family photograph that moves me at that moment. Or I will just start mark-making and finger painting to see what memories or feelings are evoked. I go from there. I was playing with paint loosely on top of a more tightly-rendered piece and had this flash of memory from an incident when I was a child on a road trip with my family. The yellow and white splotches I was compelled to add to the image in the present all of a sudden represented the mustard and mayonnaise that my father once smeared on my brother's face in an inappropriate attempt to reprimand him. So the innate actions of my hands and the paint brought about this unexpected connection that was personally significant to me, and so I decided to keep it. It's always comforting with paint to know that you CAN paint over something if you choose to. And I often do. I paint and repaint my surfaces an insane number of times until I stumble—often through great effort—onto that perfect balance of funny and sad. It's a gut thing when I know I've found it. There's no formula. It's both difficult to find and effortless. C'est la vie!

A Foreboding Shadow Befell Her So She Drowned Her Future Sorrows
Acrylic, goldleaf, and glitter on canvas
40"x 30"

OPP: Tell us about your saddest piece.

AJ: They all break my heart and save me at the same time. I think life is so incredibly sad and yet SO amazing and wonderful. I love that paradox, although that in itself is gut wrenching. A Foreboding Shadow Befell Her So She Drowned Her Future Sorrows is, at first glance, happy and bright, familial. . . love filled. But, there is major sadness or doom waiting in there. A man looking at it in Paris said aloud, "this is like a knife in my heart." It was so touching to hear that he had such a strong response to the image. This piece is based on a found photograph of my mother holding my little sister in our childhood kitchen as I sit to the side morosely glugging a goblet of golden liquid. There is a double exposure creeping over the left side of the frame. It forebodes trouble to come. My eyes have dark circles around them, and I chose to accentuate the red-eye effect in my eyes while removing it from my sister and mom. There is also a spider hanging over my mother's head, likely a leftover Halloween decoration but also adding an eery sense of imminent danger.

My mom died suddenly when she was way too young. It was, of course, a terrible tragedy. It has been very difficult to accept living without her. I had some pretty serious issues with alcohol abuse as a teenager/young adult, so the photo was telling in many ways. I just had to make a painting from it. The patterns in my work most likely stem from these times in my life when I had a living Mom and a more traditional family situation. She decorated with many competing and/or complimentary patterns. At times, it felt very busy, but there was a certain flow and comfort in the partnering and placement. I'm definitely a nostalgia junky, so things like that really get to me. I can find the ugliest thing drop-dead gorgeous if it evokes a certain feeling. . . that feeling of heartbreak in the name of love.

OPP: Tell us about your funniest piece.

AJ: I think Finally I'm A Functional Alcoholic is pretty darn funny. The goofy, starry eyed look on her face while the fire burns behind her. The landing-strip pubic hair (as my eccentric friend coined it). Of course there's some sadness going on. She's perhaps blitzed in the face of impending doom. The flowers I painted flanking her were from a gardening book I found which belonged to my late mother. But, over all it is humorous somehow. . . at least for a moment.

What's Happening To Us, Daddy?!
Acrylic, goldleaf, and glitter on canvas

Your portfolio includes several commissioned pieces, which fit stylistically with the other works, but don't have the same content as the "psychological landscapes."  But I wonder if pet portrait commissions like Portrait of Laila for her daddy, Mr. Todd Shelton (2014), Brando Plays Ball In The House (in Heaven) (2014) and Portrait of Amazing (2014) actually have a conceptual connection to the other paintings that explore intense emotions like anger, fear, resignation, shame, sadness. What do you think?

AJ: I try to infuse whatever I do with some level of emotion. My dog Beulah is like my child, so I totally love and respect animals and want to convey that in the portraits. They really do have personalities. One little mark in the wrong place and it looks like a totally different creature and would be unsettling to the pet parent! Those were basically gifts. I am glad I did them, but I have decided to cut back on stuff like that because I really do need to eat!  And I can't seem to NOT put my all into whatever it is that I am working on, whether I am being payed for it or not. The Brando piece took me weeks for example. That wallpaper!

OPP: Do you have any rules about what kinds of commissions you will take?  

AJ: I'm doing a pet portrait for my uncle right now and a piece for a friend's family who lost their youngest son recently. After those, I think I might be done with commissions/trades/gifts for a while! I have a million ideas for paintings I NEED to realize. If I could crank out work really fast that would be one thing. . .  or if I was independently wealthy. But I can't, and I'm not. I recently spent ten days on a painting of a mummy for one of my sister's low-income students because in passing he said, "hey, could you draw me a mummy?"  and I said, "sure, kid!  I'll draw you a mummy!" Again, I don't regret doing those things and honestly it is unlikely that I will really stop. But, it is my plan to strictly focus on my personal vision for a good while starting soon.

NEW work in progress
Automobile series
Acrylic on canvas

OPP: Tell us about the Automobile Series, which you note on your website is "NEW work in progress." What's the inspiration for these new paintings?

AJ: Cars, especially older cars, are so structurally and energetically beautiful. They hold so many hopes and memories. . . from the mundane to the grandiose. It is about the physical aspects—color/shape/shine—as well as the nostalgia and personalities they evoke. I didn't think too much about it at first, but have since been flooded with all kinds of memories of the cars in my personal  history. My mom was a traveling saleswoman, so she always had a company car. As she moved up in her job, the cars got better and better. It was always so exciting when she would get a new one. . . that new car smell! And when she would pick me up, the air conditioning was such a relief from the Georgia heat. But, my dad always had junkers.  He is a mister fix-it type. . . he was an engineer, but circumstances landed him in home repairs/renovations. As a family we were never super well off, so my mom's company cars were a real luxury. My first car was a 1983 Volvo. It had been sitting in a field for years before I got it, so the inside was completely green with mold. Although I cleaned the heck out of it and smoked a million cigarettes in it with my friends, I don't think it ever lost all of that moldy smell.

I started the Automobile Series in an attempt to produce a bunch of work more quickly, less obsessively. But, they took on a life of their own, and now I am in over my head with all of the ideas I have for how to complete them. They are probably more involved and OCD-inducing than any before. There are a few more that I haven't added to my website yet because they are just TOO personal or not nearly ready for show. I just wanted to let people know that although I haven't presented finished new works in a while, I HAVE been busy. There is just never enough time in a day, as we all know.

OPP: You've just returned from Paris, where you had your first international solo show at gallery Nouvel Organon. Tell us about the show and your experience. Also, how do you decompress after a big solo show?

AJ: That show was an incredible experience. It involved so much risk, investment and hard work, but it was beyond worth it. I just can't say enough about it. I learned so much about the city and about myself. I made lifelong friends, which is priceless! I sold eight pieces—not too shabby! We had multiple events in the gallery to keep it creative and exciting. Spoken word, poetry and musical artists performed in the space. An amazing Butoh duo created a piece relating to my work, and they even had me paint their feet in the performance. The whole month was a beautiful time for everyone involved. That being said, I'm happy to be "home" and back in my studio.

At Least We Got Together For Lunch Last Week
Acrylic, goldleaf, and glitter on canvas

OPP: How do you decompress after a big solo show?  

AJ: In the earlier days after a big show, I was so frazzled from all the build-up and hours of talking to strangers—immediately following the concentrated solitary time that went into creating the work—that I hightailed it to a Mexican restaurant to have a LITTLE food and a LOT of frozen margaritas. I found that I didn't leave there feeling much better. As I've become more seasoned, I have learned that some down time simply hanging with my dog is an immediate stabilizer. Exercise and, of course, more painting helps as well. The social and showing/talking part of this job always leaves me feeling a bit shell shocked. But, I'm so appreciative of the human connections I make on those occasions. I'm honored and grateful that people show up and make themselves vulnerable to speak up and share their response to the work. It's incredible. This is a mysterious and perplexing "job" to have, and I question it all the time. But, art has existed all this time for a reason. A BIG reason. So I always come back to realizing the value in staying on this path. However winding. . .

To see more of Anna's work, please visit annajensenart.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Recent solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) and Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery in Chicago. Stacia recently created a site-responsive collage installation in her hometown. NEXT: Emerging Virginia Artists runs until October 12, 2014 at the Peninsula Fine Arts Center in Newport News, VA. Here|Now, a two-person exhibition curated by MK Meador and also featuring the work of Jason Uriah White, is on view at Design Cloud in Chicago from July 25 - October, 24, 2014.