From floods to Legos to skies – Evolution of a project

A couple of years ago after heavy rains and flooding, I noticed a strange sight while driving over the Yadkin River: a forest under water. The river had overflowed and the trees were standing in a few feet of water. Downed trees and branches were violently shoved up against still-standing trees. I was struck by the sheer power of the water overflowing its river banks and the dissonance of seeing a flooded forest.

 

This image stayed with me for a while and I collected branches which I made into little piles and bundles in my studio. I imagined a huge pile of tree trunks pushed up against a gallery wall and spilling out onto the gallery floor, the pile’s size dwarfing viewers. On an adjacent wall I imagined a wall size video projection of water slowly filling the screen to the sound of water running continuously.

 

Over the course of the next two years I made drawings and prototypes and kept running into the same problem: no matter how elegantly executed, the log stack and running water video created a feeling of dread. I couldn’t reconcile the sense of anxiety the pieces would likely provoke in viewers with my desire to create an immersive and elemental kind of experience in a gallery. Climate change is very real and frightening, but I refuse to subject viewers of my work to feelings of anxiety. As artists we are responsible for how our work affects people, and ultimately I want my work to feel vital and uplifting – even when the work deals with environmental concerns.

 

I sidelined the log pile and running water video ideas and turned to my watercolors to play and think. Watercolor is my “go-to” for figuring things out and generating ideas. I made piles of small playful mixed media drawings and wondered how they would look in a large scale if I made hundreds of them to cover a gallery wall from floor to ceiling – transforming the logs and water ideas to something less heavy-handed.

 

To prototype this idea, I made a hundred and twenty eight tiny drawings with watercolor, ink and colored pencil, and I installed them on a piece of foam core as if it were a tiny gallery wall. I then photographed this maquette with Lego mini figures as viewers to picture how it might feel on a monumental scale. It worked.
lego art gallery
In the spring of 2021, I was asked to exhibit my work at the Sechrest Gallery at High Point University, specifically my large-scale installation Paper Mountain and its companion piece Sky Project. The gallery is big. Even after installing the mountain of paper cranes and filling a wall with the Sky Project video, there was space for more work.  I knew I wanted to include some of my paintings, but there are two twenty foot-tall walls on one side of the gallery. One of these was perfect for a painting installation like what I had prototyped, but it needed to be different. The work I had made for the tiny gallery was very active work, and this needed to be more quiet because it would be near Paper Mountain, a twenty foot tall floating mountain of paper cranes. The painting installation couldn’t detract from Paper Mountain and ideally should complement it.

 

I wanted to make something that would be monumental as I had imagined with my Legos, and it also needed to uplift and encourage minds to wander. I decided to try skies for their universal and poetic quality, and made some prototypes in different painting styles and with different papers. After settling on the type of paint and the application, I found the perfect paper – heavy enough to lay flat on the wall even when coated in paint, the right size and excellent quality. It’s called Yupo, a polypropylene paper that is unpleasant and difficult to use with some mediums, but perfect for this particular project.

 

The project in its current form uses loosely painted skies to create a sense of air and space. The paintings will be hung in a grid 19 feet tall by 17 feet wide, covering one of the gallery walls near Paper Mountain. I’ve named it The space between the clouds.

 

I’m curious and excited to see how The space between the clouds will look installed. I’ll have to arrange the paintings onsite because my studio isn’t big enough to lay them all out at once, and I look forward to that part too.
The High Point University exhibition opens Thursday October 28th and is up until December 18th. The space between the clouds, Paper Mountain, Sky Project and a collection of paintings will be on display at Sechrest Gallery of Art.

 

You can support this project and see images of the work in progress on Buy Me a Coffee where I’ve been fundraising to cover the cost of paper and paint for The space between the clouds.

 

Spotlight on “The field you think you own”

abstract painting of field and architecture

Some years ago there was a field I loved and that I would sit in and paint. The space was vast, and there were areas covered with trees. Each time I returned to the field to paint, the landscape changed. The tree line receded. A development was built near the trees, then little by little more houses and apartments were built. Then a shopping center was added. The field disappeared. This painting is a love letter to that field.⁣

Meet The field you think you own.

This award-winning abstract interpretation of a landscape is oil and acrylic on canvas. It is comprised of two canvases with total dimensions 40 x 60 inches and you’ll find it here in my shop.⁣

If you love this painting, but feel like the cost is a stretch, I’ll be happy to set up an interest-free payment plan for you. Just email me to start the conversation.

It’s Tour de France time!

It’s that magical time of year when we have the TV playing for hours every day for three weeks so we can catch all of the Tour de France action. No really, it’s better than it sounds.

Anyway the Tour started last Saturday, and true to form my husband and I have been faithfully watching each stage and getting our daily fix of cycling action. This weekend the racers head into the mountains and the drama will really start. [hand rubbing]

The first time I worked a Tour trip back in my guiding days was in 2010. I remember most vividly the climbs on Col de Peyresourde and Col du Tourmalet. On the climb up Peyresourde, I ran into Didi the Devil, an iconic caped German spectator who follows the Tour each year wearing red tights and horns. On Tourmalet, between pouring rain and blasting winds, we got to watch the heavy-weights as they duked it out up the epic climb. One of the best parts of being on a steep climb during a big race is that the experience is so intense – you get to see the cyclists really suffering their way up – much more slowly than on flat terrain – so you can get a good long look at everyone. And the crowds are crazy at Tour mountain stages. With all the people there, it can be tough just to get a good spot along the road. Some people park and camp for days staking out their spot along the road.

This brings me to my Epic Ride series of paintings. These custom paintings are based on your favorite – most epic – maybe even legendary – rides you’ve done, want to do, or have seen the pros ride. (These can also be based on an epic run or hike!) You can read a bit more about these paintings here.

I’ll be back in the studio next week, and I have a few open slots for commissioned paintings in the next few months. Email me if you’d like to chat with me about a possible custom painting of your own or just give me a call at (336) 283-0185.

And if you’d like to commission an artwork and want to spread out the cost over time, I’ll be happy to set up an interest-free payment plan for you. Read more about this here or simply email me to chat.

Alpe d'huez painting
“Alpe d’Huez,” one of the paintings in my Epic Rides custom series.

on running and getting hurt and painting

I started running when I was 11 or 12. My dad and I would run down Highway 115 and at the Davidson College track. He taught me to kick at the end of a run and to stretch out stomach cramps on the move. I raced him to imaginary finish lines and we’d laugh  because we were having fun and we both knew we were trying to outrun each other. He’d let me win sometimes.

 

I ran track and cross country in junior high and struggled with shin and knee injuries until one day when I couldn’t move without excruciating pain in my knees after a long run. As athletes we learn to differentiate between discomfort and pain. There is a level of discomfort and sometimes even pain that comes from pushing yourself. And then there is the kind of pain that leads to injuries, and unfortunately it can take a while to figure out the difference. After that long run, I did months of physical therapy to try and solve my nagging knee problems. This competitive streak – with others and with myself – is possibly what has continued this cycle of running and hurting myself over the years.

 

There is a popular quote incorrectly attributed to Einstein that says “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Don’t ask me who actually said this, because I checked on the internet, and apparently no-one actually knows.

 

I’ve dreamt of running marathons since I was 14, and I have yet to run one because I keep hurting myself. I still want to run a marathon, and I’d like to do so comfortably. Also I’d like to be able to keep on running for as long as I am able, so it’s time I do things differently.

 

Last weekend I started running again using a new tactic: running and walking intervals. Coming from an old-school “no pain, no gain” type of mentality, where walking while running is a sign of weakness, I am having to change my way of thinking about running and remove my ego from the equation.

 

In my current body of work, Searching on the wind, I am also pushing myself to try new and uncomfortable things in painting. My vision is still the same: Ultimately I’d love for my work to get people excited about the outdoors and to get out for a hike or run or ride or really anything outside – and better yet with others.

 

While making these paintings, one challenge I set for myself was to stick with acrylic paint rather than switching to oil paint part of the way. With acrylic it’s more challenging for me to make the paint do what I can rely on oil paint to do – to easily push it around and for the paint to still have presence on the canvas. Oil paint has more body (it’s thicker and well… more oily) and is naturally more opaque than acrylic paint. While I am able to make paintings that are not obviously either acrylic or oil (a skill that I value), acrylic has traditionally not been as satisfying as oil for me to use. With these paintings, I resisted the urge to switch to oils because I wanted to see if I could get the same paint-feel for myself while sticking with acrylics. This is more of a personal goal rather than something that others will notice, but I think that for my art practice to be sustainable, I have to set parameters, rules or challenges for myself to keep things spicy.

 

As for the ego thing, this can come into play as an artist. We sometimes want our work to be more than what it is or to show off our skills or to be high-concept. While it is important to me that my work be transcendent  – that the finished piece be more than the sum of its parts – it’s also important that the work be honest and not try too hard. The finished piece should feel like it happened naturally, that no elements are extraneous and all are essential. While sometimes maximal is the way to go, with these particular paintings, I wanted a simpler, more elemental feel. I think of these as meditative, poetic paintings that whisper rather than shout.

 

You can explore the works in the Searching on the wind collection here.

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.

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