Interview with Painter, Anna Jensen

How did you get started doing what you do?
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 its back, laid a sheet on top and dumped an entire jumbo container of baby powder on 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. As a young adult I completed an intensive theatre acting program in New York City. After that I went back to school in my twenties, intending to use my enjoyment of drawing toward graphic design in order to better support my acting aspirations (than I was able to waiting tables). In the process during some required preliminary fine art classes, I fell in love with painting and it just took over my life. I left school at that point, but was bound and determined to be a working visual artist no matter what. I haven’t looked back since.

How would you describe your creative style?
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 hang-ups, 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.

Interview with Painter, Anna Jensen on Jung Katz

What’s your inspiration?
My paintings 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 eerie 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. And 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.

Interview with Painter, Anna Jensen on Jung Katz
Interview with Painter, Anna Jensen on Jung Katz

What is art to you?
Art can be all sorts of things, but MY art allows me to survive, honestly. It provides me with hope that I might 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.

How long does it typically take for you to finish a piece?
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.

Interview with Painter, Anna Jensen on Jung Katz
Interview with Painter, Anna Jensen on Jung Katz

How do you keep motivated?
The mystery of the next piece is enough to keep me doing this.

How would you say your surroundings have influenced your work?
As a human in this world, a middle class American in particular, I was surrounded by advertisements and consumer culture from a young age and became a product idolizer early on…usually seeking things to make me feel better about myself: tinctures and contraptions to improve my appearance, etc. I thought I needed to lose weight when I was 10 years old, so I bought a “Thigh Master”- that sort of thing. Looking back I was absolutely not overweight. I just saw too many beauty ads and infomercials. Fortunately I have made improvements in that way of thinking over the years. But, certainly the feel and aroma of various store bought items make for prime nostalgic material. I bought a face wash recently that my mother used during my youth and the smell/texture made me cry (it claims to be a “no tears” formula, how ironic). Because of these emotional attachments to products and also simply for the sake of the dynamic colors and shapes used for the packaging, I have often recreated representations of these items into my paintings.

Interview with Painter, Anna Jensen on Jung Katz
Interview with Painter, Anna Jensen on Jung Katz

What are your thoughts on art school?
I dropped out of college six times. There is something about the smell of an institution that is very inspiring at first and then ultimately sends me into a panic of feeling trapped. It’s not that I lack discipline or the respect of learning from those with more experience. I’m sure art school benefits many people when it comes to learning technique and making connections among other things. But, I think self-motivation and the school of hard knocks are just as key. Also for me it felt like a waste of time to pack up all my supplies and strap a 5ft x 6ft painting to the top of my car several times a week just to go in and discuss my work with bored, unfocused kids who brought in their projects in on sheets of notebook paper. Not that they were all that way, but I was in my twenties and the other students were fresh out of high school. I had a gut instinct that I knew what I wanted to do and could do it without a traditional school environment. So I ended up using my public library card a lot!

What’s your dream project?
I never know what I’m doing before I am doing it, so my dream project is just to continue to have the freedom of time and money to keep working!

Interview with Painter, Anna Jensen on Jung Katz

What art supplies do you use?
I paint in acrylics because I like that it dries 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. I like to paint on canvas because it is sturdy enough to work and rework. Since I don’t usually have a plan there is often a lot of trial and error that go into any given piece. That’s difficult to do on paper. Although I spent ridiculous amounts of hours on a couple of paper pieces in the last year or two (Tell The Truth Like It’s A Joke and My Milkshake Brings All The Boys To The Yard). Thank Goodness for quality framing professionals.

What’s your process like?
I generally just dive into the unknown each time. I make a mark and then respond to it. It’s like improv 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.

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