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The Music of the Wind Paintings and Why Van Gogh Maybe Didn’t Kill Himself…

I’m fascinated by the wind. Cultures create all sorts of stories to try and make sense of the wind and how it affects us. My grandparents lived in Caen, France for a while when I was little. It’s a very windy place, and I will always remember how the wind there made me feel. It tossed me around, made me feel little, and made me feel generally uneasy. On the other hand, winds clean the air, carry scents, and even create power with wind turbines.

Music of the Wind 1, oil and acrylic on canvas, 24 x 24 inches

I made these paintings as I thought of the wind: how it feels when we’re outside when it’s hot or cold, how it shapes the earth…

Music of the Wind 2, oil and acrylic on canvas, 24 x 24 inches
The wind is mysterious. It’s such a powerful force and yet we can’t see it.
In these particular paintings, I’m layering shapes and color evocative of landscapes seen both from ground level and from above (from an airplane for example). I also layer gestural marks and shapes of color to convey the energy of the outdoors.

These paintings are currently available from my web shop until August 27th. Find them HERE.

Music of the Wind 3, oil and acrylic on canvas, 24 x 24 inches

There’s a strong wind called Le Mistral in the south of France. 

According to popular culture throughout history, this wind has been accused of everything from making people crazy to inciting murder. So in that vein, here’s an interesting tidbit I found this week… Van Gogh, who famously lived in the south of France, maybe didn’t commit suicide. Recent forensic research shows that he may have been instead murdered by a local group of kids who used to bully him… Read more about why this could be true, how the story of his suicide came about, and why a lot of folks are angry about it on the Charmed Studio and on Vanity Fair.

If you found this the least bit interesting, please share it with others. Thanks!

Why does fitness matter as an artist? It’s not what you think.

Artists get a bad rap. Whether it’s the myth of the starving artist, or the stories of drug and alcohol abuse, there aren’t a lot of highly visible models for artists to follow for a healthy sustainable career. An artist who takes care of themselves, spends time with their family, and behaves like a professional doesn’t necessarily make for the most exciting story, but the fact is, it makes for a more productive, well-rounded, happier artist, who is more likely to keep making their artwork and have a thriving life and career.
Here I am hoofing it up one of my favorite hills in PA…
Fitness is an important tool for me. I need to move my body to burn off excess energy (outside if possible), and most importantly, I find that it clears my head, focuses my mind, and helps manage my mood – an essential part of spending long hours working on my own.
I believe that to make our most honest artwork, it helps to have a clear head. When I don’t exercise – especially outside – I am prone to depression and anxiety. Riding my bike is especially potent – the intense exercise burns off excess energy and the repetitive action of pedaling helps to tap right into a meditative state. This is the best recipe for me. As a bonus, riding is a social activity, a good counter balance to days working alone.
Tying fishing lines to hang origami birds for Paper Mountain
I stand most of the day and my work sometimes involves reaching and twisting into strange positions (such as the week of installation required to hang Paper Mountain – Click here to watch a timelapse of the week-long process). My work involves making repetitive motions for long periods of time (when using painting or cutting tools or folding paper for instance), so repetitive injury is a risk for me. In addition to more vigorous exercise, I practice yoga on most mornings to stave off pain from new and old injuries and to calm my mind. When I’m being especially good, I also finish the day with a few minutes of physical therapy and calisthenics for basic strength and injury prevention.
A big part of making art sustainable for me is to take care of myself. It’s hard enough to spend long hours on my own acting as both artist and entrepreneur, but if I’m not mentally and physically fit, it makes it difficult to stay focused and to work without physical pain.
The old myth of the starving unhealthy artist is just that – OLD. I’d rather keep myself healthy so I can keep on making my work long into old age.
What works for you? What keeps you healthy and happy? I’d love to hear from you. You can email me at: [email protected]

If you found this interesting, you’ll like my post: 11 things athletes do that will make you a better artist

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“100 Years of Women” talk at the College of William & Mary

In the fall of 2018, The College of William & Mary in Virginia, my alma mater, invited me to give a talk during the “100 Years of Women” anniversary exhibit. The talk was part of the Department of Art and Art History’s Alumni Speaker Series. It was a humbling experience to give a talk in the very lecture hall where I took my first art history survey class as a freshman in 1998.

I spoke about how motherhood spurred me to get serious about my art practice, how spending time in the outdoors fuels me and my work, my art-making process, some of the stories behind my work, and why art matters. Watch the talk below.

You can watch my other talks here:

Demystifying Abstraction

About Paper Mountain and Sky Project, my latest projects

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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.

How I Started

I’ve been making things since I was a kid – I remember a lot of time making stuff with my mom at the dining room table – and I always drew.

Fast forward a few years… My dad signed me up for figure drawing sessions at the École des Beaux Arts in Tours, France when we lived there during my tenth grade year of high school. That was my first time drawing from the nude figure and in a room full of other adult artists.

I continued studying art in college and in grad school, I even taught art, but it wasn’t until after we had our son that I really began to understand what it means to be a professional artist. After he was born, I had to make art a priority – to be ruthless about it – if I was going to keep making things along with being a mom, a wife, and holding down a day job. I also wanted to demonstrate strong work ethic to my son, to show him that part of the process of doing things is to experiment, to fail, to start again… and I wanted him to be proud of his mom.

If you want to read more about how motherhood has impacted my art practice, check out my post “On Motherhood an Being an Artist.”

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?”

Folding the last crane

On November 14th, 2018, I started folding 1200 birds for Paper Mountain. Well I actually started earlier, but all the birds I folded before then didn’t make the cut. I was testing out papers, and didn’t find the right combination of size and weight until the middle of November. So from mid November until February 12th, I folded birds every single day without fail (except for 3 days spent painting at a workshop). In this video, I am folding the last of the 1200 birds. As soon as I folded that last bird, I felt a tinge of nostalgia. I really enjoyed my daily folding (typically 1-2 hours per day).

From March 9-14, I’ll be installing Paper Mountain and Sky Project at Elder Gallery of Contemporary Art in Charlotte, NC. The exhibit opens on March 15th. I’m still raising money to make this project happen, and I’d love it if you would contribute and be a part of this big undertaking. Thanks to everyone who has already contributed to the project!

Please forward and share this with all your friends!

Note: The video is sped up 2x and it’s set to Ella Fitzgerald’s “A-Tisket, A-Tasket.”

On the Outdoor Experience and Art

me drawing, not sure when (4 years old?)

I moved around a lot as a kid. My mom is French and my dad is American, so we lived both in the US and France for a few years at a time. I didn’t feel like I fit in in either country. We also spent a lot of time doing outdoor stuff. We hiked, camped, ran, rode bikes, and played a lot of imaginary games outside. I remember building tree houses, making magic potions with mud and flowers, and pretending to be on secret missions and outdoor expeditions. I may have also made a fire in the middle of our backyard so I could make s’mores and cook beans in a can. (Don’t tell my parents.) Anyway, when I was in the outdoors, I was at home. No matter what country I was in, when I was doing stuff outside, I felt at home. 

Growing up, I also spent a lot of time drawing and making things. Looking back, I realize  that the experience of making things was and still is the same for me: I am focussed, nothing else matters except for what I am making at that moment, and in the best case scenario, I am in a state of flow. This feeling of being in the moment and fully engaged with my environment and what I am doing is similar to my experience when I am enjoying the outdoors. Whether in a forest or on a mountain top, what resonates with me are the feelings of being connected to the world and at the same time, of being small in a vast universe. While I can portray what an outdoor scene looks like by making a landscape painting, through abstraction, I explore what it feels like to be outside.

Jessica Singerman painting "Pilot Mountain 1"
Pilot Mountain 1, acrylic and oil on panel, 20 x 20 inches, 2018

It’s through making things and being in the outdoors that I am able to connect to the world and to find my place in it. In the outdoors, we are reminded of how small we are in the world. We experience the vastness of the universe and at the same time, the interconnectedness of it all. For me, I don’t feel like my words do these feelings justice. But in my artwork, abstraction in particular, I can explore the human experience in the outdoors, the spiritual element of being in the outdoors – that feeling of both being small and being connected to a vast universe.

Being a human is complicated. Spending time in the outdoors and making things helps me make sense of life – of my place in the world. When I make things, I express what I feel but that I don’t have the words to explain. Through abstraction, I try to communicate the complexity and the vastness of the human experience. 

A Small Token for World Kindness Day

I’ve been folding paper since I was a child. It has always been a mindful activity that brings me peace. Today is world kindness day, so I want to share peace and kindness with you as I fold this crane.

My heart breaks each time I hear the news these days, and as an artist, we sometimes question the validity of what we do in times of crisis. But after years of thinking about this, I know that what artists do is essential to humankind. We open up conversations and connections between people who may never meet. And today in a small quiet way, I am sending peace, love, and kindness to the world. Paper folding is a prayer for peace.

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