“PLEASE DON’T DIE,” reads Anna Jensen’s “Heart Surgery Banner,” in big, cheerful letters on a white canvas that suggests a hospital wall, complete with a glittery get-well ribbon and a window. Up close, the canvas fleshes over a limblike frame, evoking a grasping body under a sheet. The layers of loud absurdity, plaintive humanity and implicit horror in this piece occur throughout The Bait Hides the Hook, her exhibition of paintings at Pink Dog Creative, running through Sunday, Aug. 2.
Many of the paintings are less sculptural but no less focused on human interaction, sexuality and the canvas as a physical object. Jensen calls the paintings “psychological landscapes,” each canvas an inhabited space for characters and objects from implied narratives that take on increasing depth as figures reappear from one painting to another. Backgrounds can be hazy but details are always specific.
Personal history and pop culture combine in a phantasmagorical parade of surreal figures and self-referential minutiae, a sort of “Warhol-ize your life experiences” app let loose in acrylic and glitter. One canvas is just as likely to have another Jensen painting rendered in miniature on a wall behind its subject as it to have Mr. Rogers as a subject, a bottle of Rough Rider lying at his feet.
Images scan like photographs of a mind at a particular instant, diarylike in their whimsical collage of public and personal references, exploiting the tension between a short and irreverant attention span and an autobiographical obsession. Images and titles often subvert one another. It is the dual framing of opposite impulses that gives Jensen’s painting such curious drive: Images titillate with sexual fantasy while hinting at a darker, more desperate reality; images provoke laughter with a bitter subtext of pain.
Beneath all the irony and bleak comedy lies pronounced carnality, vulnerability and a tactile emphasis on figure. Jensen’s paintings engage the viewer as frames of an individual mind — intimate, nonsensical, damaged, absurd.
Check out The Bait Hides the Hook at Pink Dog Creative, 348 Depot St. in the River Arts District, until August 2. Gallery hours are 10 a.m.-4 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, and sporadically on Wednesdays and Thursdays between noon and 4 p.m.