When local painter Anna Jensen overheard a man in a restaurant tell his server, “There are no tomatoes in the corn salsa,” she thought about the game “Telephone,” and how pronunciations and meanings of words are altered over time. Thus the name for her current exhibit at PUSH Gallery was born: There Are No Potatoes in the Porn Salsa.
Paintings fill the walls of PUSH Gallery, and there’s a lot on display for the viewer to absorb. A variety of artistic styles, such as abstract, figurative, Pop and folk are woven into intriguing narratives involving naked and half-clad women, commercial products, masks, patterns, animals, and popular art reproductions. The disparity of Jensen’s painting — in combination with her gestural mark-making and suggestive subject matter — is exactly the sort of thing that will make viewers either love it or recoil from it. In either case, Jensen displays fearlessness.
For Jensen, the naked female body reflects conflicted attitudes toward her own body, and “the weird scariness of being a woman.” In a painting entitled “E! True Hollywood Story, Candy-O,” a larger-than-life curvaceous woman in heels and a leotard arches her back in an exaggerated manner, her face passive.
In most cases, Jensen paints a dissimilar “mask” or face onto the bodies, such as in the painting, “Young Saint, Old Devil,” where the face of a child is painted onto the body of a pinup model. “Plenty of women have confronted me as to why I use such typically beautiful bodies,” says Jensen, “But it’s really about being vulnerable rather than showy.”
Jensen begins many of her pieces as purely abstract works from which she gradually develops a face or a figure. Her self-portrait, “Someone might love me if only I had a peppier phone voice,” hangs at the back of the gallery. In it, an unyielding red face bearing three black holes as features contrasts with the hair and dress of the figure painted in gestural strokes of color. Accidental smears of paint have been left on the canvas — marks that other artists might have omitted. “I’ve had to teach myself to incorporate freedom and messiness [into my work],” says Jensen.
She appropriates distinct painting styles and even exact reproductions of well-known artists into her work (de Kooning, Matisse, Picasso and Basquiat), surprising in this age, where most artists are generally concerned about conveying an original voice. The mash-up of styles is compelling. It’s almost as if Jensen is declaring, “I am every artist, and every artist is me.”
“Come on People! Bliss Pits Don’t Build Themselves!!” is based on a Gauguin painting, and Jensen has painted her grandmother’s face on top of a stylized nude. Behind the figure hang two framed paintings — one looks like a Picasso. At her feet lie empty liquor bottles, soda cans, cigarette butts, whipped cream, prescription pill canisters and a Liver Detox tea box. “They’re things I’ve used in my past to make me happy,” says Jensen. A bird is perched nearby. “When I’m making a painting and I feel like something’s missing, I usually will put a bird in it to complete it,” she says.
Jensen began painting seven years ago after the unexpected death of her mother. “In some strange way I think it’s her working through me,” she says. The flattened stencil designs she incorporates into her pieces reference her mother who “was always using different wallpapers.” The patterns, she says, “bring out a nostalgic feeling for me.”
The most solemn painting in the exhibit, “A Foreboding Shadow Befell Her” was painted from an old childhood photograph where a young Jensen sits in a suburban kitchen, next to her mother, who is holding her sister. The girls drink a golden fluid from their wine glasses and stare at the viewer with heavy eyes. All figures are clad in austere dresses. Floral wallpaper is intricately rendered, and a shadow covers the left side of the painting. A menacing Halloween ornament hangs above the family, and details of cereal boxes and refrigerator art are painted with remarkable precision.
Aside from a smattering of drawing classes, Jensen never completed a formal educational program in the visual arts, and one gets the sense that her creative decisions come from an intuitive voice rather than a trained one. There are some compositional rules she chooses not to follow, or maybe she just never learned them — like the rules of perspective — and in the end this works to her advantage. Each piece is as inventive and original as the next.
Show is up through July 20. More at annajensen.etsy.com and pushtoyproject.com.