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.

“Someone might love me if only I had a peppier phone voice.” Artist Anna Jensen. Photo by Jonathan Welch

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 and


Thanks for reading through to the end…

We share your inclination to get the whole story. For the past 25 years, Xpress has been committed to in-depth, balanced reporting about the greater Asheville area. We want everyone to have access to our stories. That’s a big part of why we've never charged for the paper or put up a paywall.

We’re pretty sure that you know journalism faces big challenges these days. Advertising no longer pays the whole cost. Media outlets around the country are asking their readers to chip in. Xpress needs help, too. We hope you’ll consider signing up to be a member of Xpress. For as little as $5 a month — the cost of a craft beer or kombucha — you can help keep local journalism strong. It only takes a moment.

About Webmaster
Mountain Xpress Webmaster Follow me @MXWebTeam

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.