Projecting desires and fears

Anna Sofie Jespersen is a Danish artist based in London who produces emotive figurative works. Anna’s powerful drawings are laden with feeling. Her large scale works have a particularly strong impact. She trained at the Chelsea College of Art and has won awards for both drawing and painting, including second prize in the 2016 Jerwood Drawing Prize for her work ‘Sid in Bathtub’. She was shortlisted for the 2017 Bloomberg New Contemporaries.

Richard Bright: Can we begin by you saying something about your background?

Anna Sofie Jespersen: I grew up in Aarhus, Denmark. A city large enough to have a contemporary art museum (Aros), but small enough that everyone knows everyone. I moved away from there as soon as possible to study in London. As a kid, I couldn’t wait to grow up, the irony being that it has taken me this long. After completing my BA at Chelsea College I hung around London for a year before moving to New York. I love London, I miss it. I miss the dry, rain-drenched, sarcasm saturating everything. I miss Wetherspoons chips and Brixton Market, I miss mysterious Hackney warehouses where you don’t know whether its night or day, and cycling over Vauxhall bridge at night. I am still getting used to living in America, or rather this surreal city state that is New York City, separated from the rest of the country.

The Lara Show #2, 59 x 84 cms, 2018

RB: Have there been any particular influences to your art practice?

ASJ: The first show that really changed something for me in terms of choosing art as a means of expression was Christian Lemmerz’ 2010 show Genfærd/Ghost at Aros, Aarhus. Seeing otherworldly marble renderings of macabre, grandiose violence was very impactful for me at 17. It was an inaugural experience of being seen or something. My early work possessed a similar dramatic, theatrical hue. I was reading Crime and Punishment by Dostoyevsky around the same time, and was very occupied by notions of good and evil. I read slowly, I can have books on the go for many years. I took me a little over a year to get through Infinite Jest by David Foster-Wallace. I brought it with me on a trip to Australia in 2017, both my boyfriend at the time and another friend had had it previously, so it was rapidly disintegrating. I had to makeshift a sleeve for it out of a Kellogg’s Coco Pops cereal box. It became this indexical relic for me. It must be hidden in a storage unit somewhere in Peckham now, still covered in red dust from Darwin, falling apart.

That book had a profound influence on my practice. DFW’s treatment of time and (dis)continuity resonated with how I think of my own work. The way the narrative jumps back and forth in time and makes use of intertextuality, genres within genres, polyphonic voices and footnotes mutating into parallel narratives, interrupting any kind of habitual feelings towards the text, rewired my brain. As well as an insistence on elaborating on detail to a ridiculous extend, to form one chaotic whole, with contradictory currents moving beyond the length of the novel. It represented a painfully accurate description of my internal space that I hadn’t encountered before.

The Lara Show #5, 59 x 84 cms, 2018

RB: What is the underlying focus of your work?

ASJ: I have a somewhat nihilistic, solipsistic streak in my work, although I think I’m generally a pretty cheerful person. In my drawings I project desires and fears onto other people, imagining their emotional states, but never truly engaging in them, or perhaps not understanding them. A lot of my work is about my relationship with my parents and my brother. Picking apart the nuclear family structure and its anxious crevasses. Occluding Edge, 2017, was an attempt to articulate this anxiety. I think I was beginning to perform a critique of the ideological structure my parents had built around me, unaware of it at the time.

The compulsive notion that nothing exists outside one’s own perceptive modes is hard for me to let go of. I sort of hold the belief that we are truly alone, and other people and entities can merely pay a visit to our weird little worlds. I suppose I was hanging out a lot by myself as a kid. The truth is that I am obsessed with communities and never was able to find one to truly be a part of. I was born into a commune of sorts, then my parents moved to the suburbs when I was five. It always was this lost paradise for me. I suppose childhood is that for everybody.

Delia Archie, 59 x 84 cms, 2018

RB: What inspires and ‘informs’ your drawing practice?

ASJ: Time. Time keeps me up at night. Drawing, to me is all about time. I insist on the dissimilitudes between draughtsmanship and painting, and was always very fussy about it. After my first painting critique at Camberwell Foundation, I knew that that wasn’t what I was. My work is more maps than it is built up layers. I want to see every mark. When you paint, you add layers on top of other layers, that to me suggests an inherent element of concealment, which sort of confuses me, I think. When you draw, every mark is visible, splayed out. To me that is a recording of time. I think that this is why each piece is so large. It takes as long as it is big. In Cinema 1, Gilles Deleuze compares the cartoon with frame-by-frame moving image, describing drawing as not constituting a pose or a completed figure, but the description of a figure, always in the process of being shaped or dissolving through a movement of lines. That really stuck with me. Sometimes I start drawing something in one way, and over the course of the rendering, my relationship to this object or subject has changed so the drawing will change accordingly, as a continuous lineage. Formally, I guess you can say that time dictates the outcome for me.

Sid in Bathtub, biro on tracing paper, 206 x 101 cms,2016

RB: Can you say something about the use of narrative in your work?


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All images copyright and courtesy of Anna Sofie Jespersen


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