The Story Behind Sky Project

Like a lot of artists, I use photography to document my work and to share my process with the world. I sometimes take photos as reference material for my work. And sometimes the photos make the work. In one of my newest works, Sky Project, I crowdsourced photos of the sky via Instagram to make a video projection. People from all over the world shared photos.

The project is a reaction to the outdoor experience as filtered through our phones. We take photos of everywhere we go and everything we do and share them on social platforms such as Instagram. Many people’s experience of the outdoors is entirely based on what is Instagrammable. So how do we continue to have unmediated experiences in nature with the constant distraction of telephones in our lives? Can we still do that?

While technology like our phones and social media connect us, they also sometimes broaden the divisions between us. When we go outside with friends and family, we can feel genuinely deep connections both with each other and the outdoors. Through Sky Project, I encouraged people to look up from their phones, toward the sky that we share with everyone else – to get outside and to look around. Ultimately, I want my work to spur viewers to get outside and experience nature for themselves. I hope that by doing this, we can forge more profound connections with each other and develop a deep appreciation of nature together.

See more of the project along with Paper Mountain HERE. You can see both projects at Elder Gallery of Contemporary Art in the exhibit “Beyond the Mountain” until April 26th.

Get a video tour of the exhibit on my blog HERE.

Going outside will save us

 

On March 16th, a day after the opening of “Beyond the Mountain” at Elder Gallery of Contemporary Art, I sat down for a talk about the inspiration behind my work. I explain my painting process, where the ideas for Paper Mountain and Sky Project came from, and why art and going outside will save us. And if you scroll down a little farther, I added a little treat: a private tour of my work in the exhibit. Enjoy!

You can experience the exhibit for yourself until April 25th at Elder Gallery of Contemporary Art in Charlotte, NC.  To see more of Paper Mountain and Sky Project, visit the project page HERE.

Installing Paper Mountain

I finished installing Paper Mountain at Elder Gallery of Contemporary Art last week. After one year of planning, three months of folding paper cranes, and one week of installation with a team, it feels good to see the project come to life and to share it with others.

Below are two time lapse videos showing the installation process from Saturday night through Wednesday. I used GoPros to shoot one photo per minute for the duration of the installation. The first video was shot from the ground floor, and the second was shot from the mezzanine for a bird’s eye view. These are the steps we followed to install Paper Mountain:

  • Assemble the scaffold (not for the faint of heart)
  • Place tape on the floor to mark the footprint of the mountain
  • Attach the wire fence to the ceiling trusses
  • Tie fishing line to the wire
  • Open each crane (fold wings down)
  • Pierce the top of a crane with a needle
  • Run fishing line through a crane
  • Place crane at correct height
  • Squeeze split shot (small lead weight) under the bird to hold it in place
  • Repeat for each bird
  • Inspect and make adjustments
  • Trim fishing line underneath birds
  • Sweep underneath the piece
  • Light the piece
  • Disassemble the scaffold (terrifying)

 

Beyond the Mountain is up at Elder Gallery of Contemporary Art until April 26, 2019. If you haven’t already, go see it! You’ll experience Paper Mountain, Sky Project, and paintings by me and Martha Armstrong.

In the Press: ‘Beyond the Mountain’ Exhibit Brings Origami to the Next Level

A digital rendering of Jessica Singerman’s “Paper Mountain” installation.

Thank you Queen City Nerve and writer Emily Pietras for the excellent write-up on the exhibit “Beyond the Mountain” opening March 15th at Elder Gallery of Contemporary Art in Charlotte, NC. Read on for the full story:

For three months, artist Jessica Singerman set aside an hour or more nearly every day to hand-fold paper cranes. The end result of that meticulous exercise is “Paper Mountain,” a 13-foot-high, 30-foot-long installation that comprises more than 1,000 of these intricate figures.

It’s part of a new body of work that Singerman will debut in her upcoming exhibit, Beyond the Mountain, which runs through April 26 at the Elder Gallery of Contemporary Art following an opening reception on March 15. Also featuring pieces by abstract landscape painter Martha Armstrong, the show seeks to celebrate the human connection to nature and respond to the changing ways people interact with the outdoor environment.

Singerman, who majored in studio art at The College of William & Mary and received her MFA in painting from the University of Delaware, began incorporating nature into her artwork during a creative rut. As an undergrad, she focused on politically driven figurative work from a feminist perspective, but by graduate school, she had hit a roadblock.

“I didn’t feel like I had a lot to offer with the figure,” says Singerman, who lives in Winston-Salem. “And so I think as a result of that, I started exploring other avenues in my work.”

Like Armstrong, Singerman ultimately found her passion in landscape-based abstraction. After graduate school, she took a job as a cycling guide, leading tours across Europe, Central America and Australia. That adventurous outdoor lifestyle provided experiences that continue to influence and shape her work today.

“I started living on the road a lot, and then when I would get home, I had all these images in my head of all these places I’d been, outdoor places,” Singerman says. “Especially now looking back, I understand that a lot of that was fodder for my imagination. All these outdoor landscapes … you have all these memories of places you go, and all of that goes into my work as an artist. I think about all of these different spaces that I’ve been to.”

“Paper Mountain” marks a departure from painting for Singerman, who says the feeling she wanted to evoke with the project couldn’t be captured on canvas.

“I wanted to create something that was more immersive for viewers in a way that when we go outside, if we’re by a mountain or a big tree, we sense a presence that is bigger than us, and it’s awe-inspiring,” Singerman says. “And so I wanted to make something that would try to do that.”

For Singerman, the main challenge was finding the right kind of paper.

“Because I wanted to make something big, I couldn’t use regular origami paper,” she says. “And the big paper, the tough thing was to find something that wasn’t too thick, because then it doesn’t fold well. And it couldn’t be too flimsy; otherwise, it would just fall over. It had to have some kind of structure.”

More-igami.

Through trial and error, Singerman landed on drawing paper, and from November 14, 2018, through February 12, 2019, she dedicated a portion of each day — aside from three days to attend a painting workshop — to folding the 1,200 paper cranes.

And “Paper Mountain” isn’t the only part of Beyond the Mountain that has moved Singerman out of her artistic comfort zone.

A complementary installation called “Sky Project” includes 75 images of the sky, crowdsourced through Instagram, that will be projected onto the gallery’s walls. The project is a response to the modern-day desire to document much of our lives on social media and how that has altered the way we experience nature.

“I think of people going to places outside to then post about it, which is really interesting,” Singerman says. “In a way, it’s nice that it’s driving people to national parks or to go outside and do stuff. But on the other hand, there are places that are overcrowded now, because they weren’t meant to have so many people visiting them. So there’s a double-edged sword that’s happening with social media and the outdoors. The question I wanted to ask with this project is, can we have pure experiences outside? Can we go outside and be there and not have to filter everything with our phones?”

Painting an abstract landscape

Here’s a time lapse video showing the process of making an abstract landscape painting. This one was the third in a series of four that I made. You may notice the little drawing pinned up to the right of the painting. This is a loose reference drawing that I made from a friend’s photo of a valley in Spain. The photo really inspired me when I saw it – something about the big space, the layering of shapes of grass, ground, rock, and sky – so I asked my friend if I could make some work inspired by the photo.

If you look closely, you’ll see that part of the way through I swapped my acrylic cart out for my oil painting tabouret. I often start my paintings in acrylic so that I can more quickly put down successive layers of paint (acrylic dries very quickly – for a split second I use a hair dryer to speed up the process), then I move into oil paint which dries much more slowly. Some people are sticklers to one medium over the other, but I think they each have their benefits and drawbacks, and they are ultimately means to an end.  I use what works best for me at any point during the process. Once you start working in oils though, there’s no going back to acrylic. The painting would literally fall apart since acrylic dries too fast for the oil paint to dry properly under it.

I set my camera to shoot once every 10 seconds.

These paintings will be shown at Elder Gallery of Contemporary Art in Charlotte, NC along with Paper Mountain and Sky Project. The show opens March 15th!

2018 Year in Review and THANK YOU!

Artist Jessica Singerman in the studioIt’s almost 2019! As we look forward to the new year, I’ve been reflecting on the past year and I’d like to THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart for your support. Here are some of the things that your support helped make possible:

Last winter the Happenings CLT blog featured me as a “Carolina Art Crush.”

I won an Arts Council of Winston Salem and Forsyth County Duke Energy Regional Artist Grant to purchase a professional photography and video setup. I discussed the importance of grants like this for the arts community with writer Michael Solender for the Duke Energy Illumination blog.

In the spring I was in a three-person show at Elder Gallery of Contemporary Art in Charlotte, and the gallery subsequently asked me to join the roster of artists they represent.

At Elder Gallery, I gave a lecture on abstraction, my painting process, inspiration, life as an artist, and why making art matters. You can watch the lecture here.

In autumn I had a solo show in the Elberson Fine Arts Center at Salem College in Winston Salem. Virtually walk through the exhibit here.

The College of William & Mary in VA, my alma mater,  invited me to give a talk during the “100 Years of Women” anniversary while my painting Greenway Triptych was exhibited there.

And like last year, thanks to my collectors who bought artwork, I was able to donate 5% of all my sales to Yadkin Riverkeeper, a local non-profit that “seeks to respect, protect and improve the Yadkin Pee Dee River Basin through education, advocacy and action.”

Stay tuned for what’s happening in 2019. I’m hitting the ground running with two shows at the start of the year and I’m building a mountain in March at Elder Gallery… In September, I’ll have my first museum show at the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art!

Thank you so much for your continued support along my journey.

Evolution of an idea

My idea started simply: Build a mountain of paper.
Digital Rendering of Paper Mountain at Elder Gallery
As a painter, my work is basically two-dimensional. As a painter concerned with the outdoor experience, the flat surface of a painting could be considered limited. A bit like looking through a window instead of being outside in a landscape. I wanted to make an immersive experience, something bigger than me or anyone else. Something evocative of the outdoors, specifically being in the presence of a mountain. I often think of the sculptor Richard Serra’s work, gently curved huge steel walls. Standing near these sculptures, one gets a strong  feeling of being in the presence of something much larger than we are as humans, something that looms over us in a physical sense and evokes standing near a mountain or in a crevasse – something approaching the sublime.
So I planned to build a mountain using paper because paper is the most basic element we use as artists. I hoped that it’s delicate feel would help convey the fragility of our environment and that it would contrast with the large scale of the mountain.
I first thought I would stack recycled paper in 1-ton bales and retain the mountain shape using wire – the same kind of wire used on rock faces on the side of roads to prevent rock falls. It turns out recycled paper smells terrible, so I ruled that out. I thought about using recycled plastic, but decided it would end up looking like piles of trash and would be too oppressive in a gallery setting.
a concept drawing
I then thought of making a mountain form with wire and lumber covered with paper. When I went to Elder Gallery to take photos and measurements, I noticed that there were metal beams along the ceiling. Rather than building my mountain on the ground, I could hang it from the ceiling! The mountain could be suspended. I could make wire and folded paper sandwiches so that each piece holds its shape, and they would all be hung from the ceiling like a sort of dense mobile.

To try this out, I built a smaller version of the mountain in my studio. I attached chicken wire to grey paper and molded each piece into what looked like a large rock. I hung all the pieces from the ceiling. It looked terrible. It looked like exactly what it was: paper with chicken wire taped to it. I want my mountain to be transcendent, to be more than the sum of its parts. I want my mountain to inspire, to make people dream, to be poetic. This was not it. Back to the drawing board.
When I had originally conceived of the project, I thought about using paper folding techniques so the piece would be elegant in its finished form. I wondered if there were mathematical concepts that could generate folds to look like rock formations. I decided I wanted my piece to feel more organic though, and initially decided against paper folding. After mocking up the mountain using the paper and wire sandwich though, I reconsidered the paper folding. I remembered all the time I’d spent folding paper as a child.
Paper Crane Drawing, pencil on paper, 2018
Paper folding is something that I’ve always returned to even as an adult – it’s meditative and it’s like magic – making three dimensional objects with a sequence of folds. I remembered the story of the 1000 cranes, that folding 1000 cranes would bring you luck. There are other stories of the 1000 cranes involving kindness and peace and giving. I decided I’d try to hang the cranes in a mountain formation that would touch the ground. The mountain would be made of a dense flock of birds. The companion project to the Paper Mountain is a project involving images of skies, so birds were fitting.
I went to work finding the right paper. It had to be big because the area of the mountain would be thirty feet long, ten feet wide, and thirteen feet at its highest point. The paper had to be the right weight. Too light and it would collapse under its own weight. Two heavy, and it wouldn’t fold correctly. After weeks of folding cranes using all weights and sizes of paper, I found a drawing paper that worked well enough. Each sheet must be cut to an 18×18 inch square. The paper is thick enough that as folds are added and its structure gets more rigid, it fights back a little. But I found ways to effectively fold it so the folds are crisp. And with its weight, it holds a good shape.
Paper Cranes In My Studio
Over the course of a few days, I hung each bird using fishing line from my studio ceiling, in the dense flock I’d imagined in my mind’s eye. I started at the top and realized that I should rather start from the bottom to avoid getting birds tangled in fishing line. I started too densely and then left more space in between them. When the small mountain was finished, it felt right. I calculated that I would need to fold 1200 birds to make the mountain as large as I planned. If there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s taking large projects and breaking them down into smaller chunks. So every day, without fail, I’m folding birds.

To learn more about Paper Mountain, visit the project page.

Folding a crane

Paper Mountain & the Sky Project

From now until March 2019, I am working on a project for Elder Gallery of Contemporary Art in Charlotte, NC.

This project has two parts, a very large paper mountain and a video projection of skies.

The idea behind this is to create an experience that evokes the outdoor environment. As a painter, my work is about the intersection of the outdoor experience and art. Because painting is inherently a two dimensional experience, this installation is a way to create a more immersive experience for viewers.

I’m looking for partners to help cover the costs of the project. There are the material and equipment costs to build the mountain and to create the sky project, staff to assist with the building of the mountain, and all the time and work I am doing between now and March to make the project successfully come to life.

To learn more about the project, please visit www.jessicasingerman.com/papermountain

On the website, find out more about the project, what it’s about, why it’s important, and different levels of support. I appreciate any level of participation.

If you want to ask me about the project directly, please email me at [email protected]. I’d love to hear from you.

If you love this project, but can’t swing a contribution at the moment, please SHARE this project with everyone you know who’d love it.

Private viewing of the “Shape of the Sky” at Salem College

My exhibit of paintings “The Shape of the Sky” is on view at the Elberson Fine Arts Center at Salem College in Winston-Salem, NC until October 5th. So if you weren’t able to make it to the opening last Friday, there’s still time to see the show! Watch the video above for a tour of the exhibit.

In these paintings, I continue to explore the intersection of the outdoor experience and painting. The forces of nature are an ongoing source of inspiration in my life and work, and in these paintings, I aim to share that with you and to inspire you.

While the work is on display, you can still purchase the paintings online. They will be marked as sold in the exhibit and shipped the week of October 15th. Visit the Gallery Shop to bring these paintings into your life.

I donate 5% of the sales of my works to Yadkin Riverkeeper, a local non-profit that “seeks to respect, protect and improve the Yadkin Pee Dee River Basin through education, advocacy and action.”

Know someone who’d like these paintings? Please share this post!

“The Shape of the Sky” opens this week

My exhibit “The Shape of the Sky” is on view at the Velma Mason Davis Gallery, Elberson Fine Arts Center, at Salem College from August 27th – October 5th.

The opening reception is on Friday September 7th, from 6:00-8:00 PM. This event is free to the public.

My “Pilot Mountain” and “Forces of Nature” series will be on view. I am inspired by the poetry of nature: color and light in the landscape, seasons, and the passing of time. The series of paintings “Forces of Nature” is inspired by the strength of nature and the power of the outdoors. “Pilot Mountain” is a series of works inspired by a snowy winter hike in Pilot Mountain State Park in North Carolina.

While the work is on display, you can still purchase them online! They will be marked as sold in the exhibit and shipped the week of October 15th. Follow the Shop link buy these paintings.

I donate 5% of the sales of my works to Yadkin Riverkeeper, a local non-profit that “seeks to respect, protect and improve the Yadkin Pee Dee River Basin through education, advocacy and action.”

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