The case for abstraction

artist painting in studio

Why do I make abstract paintings? Well it’s an instinctive thing and it’s what has primarily interested me in my artistic practice over the last two decades. For me, the experience of making a painting successful with nothing but marks and color keeps me interested and engaged. It also allows me to express a lot of the ideas and images I think of in a way that is more sensorial.

I don’t paint so that people can see what it’s like to be outside. I paint so that people can FEEL what it’s like to be outside.

When a painting features a thing or person, we are drawn to those recognizable elements and the possible stories around them. Abstraction is so vital because it captures the things we cannot see. When it’s done well, abstraction pulls at our gut in ways that we may not be able to express with words or photos. It taps a line directly to our emotions. This is why some people cry when they are in the presence of a Rothko painting. I am one of those people. It never fails that if I see a Rothko and I take the time to sit in front of it, I’ll soon be sobbing. (It was embarrassing at first, and then I just gave into it.)

I paint both totally abstract and representational paintings. I consider my more representational work – like my plein air landscapes – an important part of my practice. All of that looking at the world and recording it and making decisions about what to include affects my more abstract work. I think of the small landscapes as finished paintings, but they are also studies for my larger more abstract works. When I paint or draw, and am not simply copying something, I make a series of decisions about how to translate what I see or think of into marks and color. With time, as I keep practicing my craft, my eye and hand become more agile and my decision-making is strengthened. With experience, I’ve become more confident in my decisions while I work. When to make big changes or when to stop are not easy problems to solve, but I trust my process.

Life is a big paradox. I think abstraction often does a more compelling job of expressing this than a photo-representational artwork. I’ve accepted that life is chaos and I’m ok with not having it all figured out. Painting is what helps me explore this and share it with everyone else.

How does abstraction make you feel? Do you have any questions about this you’d like to ask me? Email me and I’ll do my best to answer.

I’ll leave you with this excellent video from PBS’ The Art Assignment. This is “The Case for Abstraction.”

“I must love you very much” opening at SECCA September 2019

It’s my pleasure to announce that my first solo museum show opens at SECCA in Winston-Salem next month. Read on for the press release with all the juicy details…

Jessica Singerman, “Unhearable Sounds,” 2019, oil on canvas, 60 x 72 inches

 

(August 20, 2019, Winston-Salem, NC) Award-winning painter Jessica Singerman announces her exhibit of paintings entitled I MUST LOVE YOU VERY MUCH, opening at the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art (SECCA) on September 17 and continuing through October 13. The opening reception takes place on Thursday September 19, from 6:00-8:00 PM, with an artist talk at 7:00 PM. Artwork will be available for purchase.

In Singerman’s monumental paintings, layered shapes meet muscular paint handling and a bold use of color to evoke a vast landscape and memories of time spent in the outdoors.

Says Singerman of these paintings, “There’s a line from a Mary Oliver poem that goes “If you have ever gone to the woods with me, I must love you very much.” Her writing cuts to the essential about what matters and what I hope to share in my work. It feels especially poignant these days – our world feels crazy and I’m afraid to lose the lands I love so much. One of my favorite such places is Pilot Mountain State Park. It inspires my work with its beauty as it overlooks the landscape surrounding it. This group of paintings came from time I spent hiking there with my family – views from the trail-side and of a pastoral landscape – not wild, but full of a vast energy nonetheless.

Mary Oliver’s writing encapsulates something essential about the human condition and about our experience in nature. If my paintings could speak, I like to think Mary’s poetry is how they would speak. Or rather, I hope that my paintings get close to the kind of transcendence of her poetry. Marks and color that transcend being and take the viewer to another place – a memory perhaps – and spur them to reflect on what it means to be human and on our relationship to nature. In any case, “if you have ever gone to the woods with me, I must love you very much.”

Arts writer Michael Solender wrote in the Charlotte Observer, “Singerman’s approach to her work and her outlook on life brings a broad perspective as a product of a bicultural upbringing. Her mother is French and her father is American.(…) Her work offers explosions of color, form and light conjuring imagery of motion and depth.”

About the artist: A resident of North Carolina since 1980, Jessica Singerman lived alternatively in France and the United States during her early life. Singerman earned her BA with Highest Honors in 2002 from the College of William & Mary, Virginia, and her Masters of Fine Arts in 2004 from the University of Delaware while on a fellowship. Her watercolors are the subject of a book published in 2017, Little Watercolor Squares, and her award-winning paintings and drawings are exhibited and collected internationally. Singerman lives and works in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. For more information visit www.jessicasingerman.com.

SOUTHEASTERN CENTER FOR CONTEMPORARY ART, including I MUST LOVE YOU VERY MUCH, by Jessica Singerman, September 17 – October 13. Opening reception Thursday September 19, 6:00-8:00 PM, and artist talk at 7:00 PM.
750 Marguerite Dr, Winston-Salem, NC 27106, www.secca.org, 336.725.1904

For more information contact:
Jessica Singerman, (336) 283-0185
[email protected]

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!

“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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How My Family Motivates Me

Looking at Paper Mountain
For the last year, I worked on the largest (literally and figuratively) project of my art life, Paper Mountain. The idea of creating this immersive experience for people – something much larger than any of us, that would evoke a mountain – was a driving force in my life. I consider it a major success and I’m really proud of that project. You can see images of this installation and read more about it here.
My other big motivator are my husband and son. It is super important to me to be the best version of myself so that I can be a good partner and parent – and continuing to make artwork is one of the best ways that I can follow my path and be true to who I am and what I am supposed to be doing. Having my son was hands down the biggest catalyst for reframing the way I perceived myself as an artist, and as soon as he was part of my life, I wanted to demonstrate strong work ethic and I wanted him to be proud of me and of my work. I do that by continuing to make art work. Read more about how being a parent has positively impacted my art practice on this blog post.
My family

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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.

Interview with the Abundant Artist

At the start of the year, I sat down for a conversation with Cory Huff, founder of The Abundant Artist, to talk about busting the starving artist myth. We talked about my trajectory from graduate school to becoming a parent, to being a professional artist and quitting my day job.

The Abundant Artist is an artist association, and our interview was featured last week on their blog, emails, and social media. Read the interview below:

CASE STUDY: JESSICA SINGERMAN

Association member Jessica Singerman recently quit her day job to focus on pursuing her art full-time! Woohoo! We sat down to learn more about Jessica’s trajectory: how she arrived from art school to quitting her day job, and what lessons other artists can learn from her experience.

Of her trajectory from art school to quitting her day job to create art full time, Jessica says it was “not linear.”

“I finished my MFA at University of Delaware in 2004 and I had been teaching while I was in school.

I kept teaching, so I was teaching art at University of Delaware and the community college as an adjunct in New Jersey. I was doing the adjunct thing and I was also working at a bike shop.

I was painting, but kind of inconsistently. I didn’t know what I was doing with my life after grad school. I would say the first few years out of graduate school I did not know what I was doing.”

Pilot Mountain 6, acrylic on panel, 20 x 20 inches

It wasn’t just the sense of uncertainty about the way forward that was an obstacle to Jessica’s success at first. She shares that her understanding about the way that inspiration functions for the working artist was preventing her from making regular work:

“I had this misconception that you will work when you’re inspired. And now I know that that’s really far from the truth. You just work. You put the work in, and then inspiration comes.”

It wasn’t until her son was born and she experienced a crisis of identity that Jessica discovered how to incorporate a daily art practice into her life. She also found that this profoundly alleviated the symptoms of depression and anxiety.

The Airplane Painting, acrylic on panel, 20 x 20 inches

“I set this goal to do a daily project. I would do a project in one sitting, usually when my son was taking a nap, and I started hanging on to this for dear life. I did that for a few months. We were living in Australia at the time, so I didn’t have a studio. My studio was like the contents of a little box. I learned really quickly that I had to make my work space easy to access, and my projects quick to get into with no clean up. I wasn’t using oil paints at the time, I was using watercolors and inks and drawing. Everything was quick to set up and take down.”

Jessica has fallen into a new rhythm since that time. She is still somewhat beholden to her son’s schedule, but most often she chooses to make work first thing in the morning while her “critical brain is off”. It was those early days of motherhood that taught her the importance of making art everyday. Around the time her son was one, she met a fellow artist through a life drawing class who referred her to a gallery in Charlotte. The gallery took her on, which Jessica described as “very validating.” In the end the gallery didn’t work out, however, and Jessica had to flounder a bit before finding new representation that was a better fit. She says of her current situation:

“I’ve got this gallery in Charlotte which is a great fit. The owner trusts me, and she’s willing to take chances on my work, so I’m trying something different. I’m doing a big installation and a video projection in March as well as some paintings, to give her something a little more easy to sell. But I really appreciate that she’s willing to take that chance on me.

I also work with a shop in Winston-Salem. It’s a showroom for really high-end hand built furniture, and they also show other local artists there, so it’s a really nice fit. It’s a beautiful space. I also show at university galleries and other nonprofit spaces as well. This year in September I had a show at Salem College, I have some work going in to a faculty exhibit at a beautiful gallery at Winston-Salem State this month and then I’m showing in an architecture firm also next month.”

Birds Content Try Again, oil and acrylic on canvas, 20 x 20 inches

This is a surprising amount of activity for Jessica, who was not too long ago struggling to make any work at all and feeling adrift between teaching, a full-time job, and trying to make room for her art. When asked how she accomplished her current lineup of representation and ongoing shows, she shared the details of that “non-linear” path that led her here:

“A friend of mine is friends with the owner of the gallery in Charlotte, and had mentioned my work to her. I showed her my work, and the gallery owner actually approached me, which has never happened in my life, and asked if I wanted to show in a three person show last march. That was kind of like a trial.

The shop in Winston-Salem I found through Instagram. Someone who I didn’t even meet but we were following each other, had mentioned my work to their friends who run this shop. So when they opened the shop they asked me if I wanted to show some work there.

The show at Salem College last year, I found out who the contact was and emailed her. I asked her if I could show there, and actually it wasn’t gonna work out for a couple of years, but then all of a sudden she had a hole she needed to fill. The Winston Salem State show is because I taught at Winston Salem State and they’re doing a faculty exhibit.”


Perhaps one of the key takeaways from Jessica’s experience is that it’s all about who you know. She’s had the benefit of valuable friends and acquaintances both in day-to-day life and on social media who recognized the quality of her work and shared it with others. So the key? Talk about your work.

The flip-side of that coin is that not only does Jessica talk about her work with people she knows and maintain a good online presence, but she also jumps at opportunities that present themselves.

Forces of Nature 4, mixed media on panel, 12 x 12 inches

Jessica also has the unique experience of being an art-world native who has had to find her wings outside of the protective bubble of art school and academia. As she has taken steps to grow her own career both with and without gallery representation, he has encountered elitist attitudes about doing the work of selling her own art:

“It’s ego, you know? You don’t want to look like you’re selling your work, because then it’s like you’re selling out. And it’s such a misconception, because the idea is that the galleries are going to take care of it. But even now, I think it’s expected that you still represent yourself on social media. I have friends who are represented by plenty of galleries and they’re still working it on social media.

So for me, it’s ego. It’s been just swallowing a lot of the misconceptions that- I don’t know that they’re actively taught, but you’re definitely made to feel that if you try so hard to sell your own work, you’re selling out or that you’re not a serious artist. Not a lot of people talk about having day jobs in the art world, because it’s like this dirty word. It’s okay to be a teacher, and it’s okay to have a wealthy partner and not mention it. “

Light Igniting Fields, Trailing Clouds, oil and acrylic on canvas, 40 x 60 inches

Jessica’s current focus is on improving her writing, producing more content for her marketing efforts and finding a new rhythm, having recently quit her day job to pursue art full time (way to go, Jessica!)

“My big thing now really is not to overdo it. My natural tendency is to work all the time. And the big thing I want to work on this year is spending more time with my son. With a day job and teaching, I was teaching last semester, and then my art practice and the business, I was not spending what I felt was enough quality time with him and that’s the big thing for me. That’s the big shift. Spending more time with my son. Not overdoing it. Setting boundaries for myself, and not burning the candle at both ends, which I’m really good at.”

Photo of Jessica Singerman

Growing up, Jessica spent a lot of time drawing and making things. Looking back, the experience of making things was and still is the same for her: she is focused; nothing else matters except for what she is making at that moment, and in the best case scenario, she is in a state of flow. This feeling of being in the moment and fully engaged with her environment and what she is doing is similar to her experience when she is enjoying the outdoors. Whether in a forest or on a mountain top, what resonates with her are the feelings of being connected to the world and at the same time, of being small in a vast universe.

It’s through making things and being in the outdoors that Jessica is able to connect to the world and to find her 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. See more of Jessica’s work at www.jessicasingerman.com

Making Thank You Drawings

Around the holiday season, I make a series of small works on paper to send to collectors of my paintings as a way of saying thank you. This time-lapse film documents the process of making the mixed media drawings I sent this year. If you look carefully, you’ll notice that I started working on light blue paper, but eventually switched to a white paper. The blue paper felt too flimsy, so I used a heavier-weight watercolor paper instead. You’ll also notice in the upper left corner when I cut the new watercolor paper. I think my favorite part of the video is seeing all the tools move around as I used them.
This was shot over the course of two days, with a photo once every 10 seconds. I used watercolor, graphite, ink, wax pastels, colored pencil, and gouache (opaque watercolor). Enjoy!

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. 

Jessica Singerman in studio with son

On Motherhood and Being an Artist

In a 2016 interview with German newspaper Tagesspiegel, the performance artist Marina Abramović said: “I had three abortions because I was certain that it would be a disaster for my work. One only has limited energy in the body, and I would have had to divide it. In my opinion that’s the reason why women aren’t as successful as men in the art world. There’s plenty of talented women. Why do men take over the important positions? It’s simple. Love, family, children – a woman doesn’t want to sacrifice all of that.”

In 2012 when my husband and I were living in Australia, we had a baby. I was in a typical new parent sleepless daze for months. After two months I realized I was losing my sense of self, and the best way I could think of to regain it was to make things every single day. I had been browsing books at the local Michael’s on a trip Stateside with my parents, and found a book called 365: A Daily Creativity Journal: Make Something Every day and Change your Life! by Noah Scalin. The book is full of prompts for projects to make every day for a year, and it struck a chord. That night I made a small drawing project and vowed to continue each day for the next year.

Let me back up a few years. After I completed my Masters in Fine Arts, I had trouble making things consistently. I worked on commissions and made things for exhibits. I made collaborative work. I even got a grant for a public art project in Adelaide, Australia. But I wasn’t making work every day, and it gnawed at me.

After I had a baby, time seemed to speed up and I got the feeling that I had no time to lose. I felt a sense of urgency to make work – that I had to make work to exist. Having a baby gave me a clarity of purpose and made my priorities very clear. I am here to make things, to paint, to create. 

We now live Stateside, but I have this same sense of urgency in my practice. Up until January 1st 2019 I had another job, so I had to be ruthless about my studio time. I moved my studio time according to the needs of the family. Over the years my studio time varied from early in the morning before anyone was up to late at night after everyone was in bed, and everything in between. It is important to me to show up every day and make work.

I have figured out over the years that I am my best self when I regularly sustain my artistic practice. I have a visceral need to create. It’s how I connect to the world and how I make sense of things. Now it’s also my full time job, so I juggle my studio practice with the work needed to sustain that: writing, photo/video, marketing, web design and web building, accounting, setting up exhibitions, etc…

I also believe that Mrs. Abramović and all the other people who think that women must choose between making good work and being a parent, are mistaken. Being a parent has made me a more dedicated and more professional artist. It has given depth to my practice and given me vision both for my work and for my life. I am grateful to my son for helping me uncover my path.

Read about how my family motivates me in my work in this blog post.

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