Painter Lisa Singer’s stormy weather at the Aspen JCC
If You Go …
What: ‘The Storm & After,’ Lisa Singer
Where: Aspen Jewish Community Center, 435 W. Main St.
When: Through Feb. 26
More info: lisasingerart.com
By all accounts, 2016 was a stormy year. The year-in-review lists that proliferated in recent weeks, whether covering geo-politics or pop culture, all began with a resigned sigh at all the tragedy. Local painter Lisa Singer harnessed this darkness and tumult into the most productive period in her career. She ended up with a massive body of work, “The Storm & After,” that searches for hope and peace in literal storms.
More than 20 of her new paintings are now on view at the Aspen Jewish Community Center on Main Street in a show running through Feb. 26. It’s something like a sequel to her fall solo exhibition at the Art Base Annex in Basalt, titled “Storm.”
“It’s the storminess, the tumult, the unsettledness that I’ve been working with,” Singer explained this week at the gallery. “And then a few months ago, I started working with what happens after the storm — the rebirth, the regrouping, the new perspective after the storm clears.”
These paintings are textured and atmospheric. They’re filled with Singer’s personal symbols of safety and hope, various shelters from the storm. There are sailboats battling rocky seas. There is a barn offering refuge on a rain-darkened plain. There are cows and birds and a buffalo — impervious creatures that calmly endure the harshest elements. In “Coming Up,” a sprout rises from the dirt toward a dim light.
“That’s what interests me: finding and experiencing the centeredness and the solidness and the sense of hope within the tumult,” Singer said.
She began working on these pieces almost exactly a year ago, at the beginning of January 2016. The exploration began with a prayer, she said, asking for greater use of her artistic abilities.
“I decided to go big — both mentally and physically,” she explained. “To think bigger and to make bigger pieces.”
Among the biggest, and the most transfixing, of these new works is the epic “Out Here,” a massive triptych inspired by the obscured mountain views from Owl Creek Road during near white-out conditions.
Singer’s “Storm & After” pieces render the sky and the sea in tactile, richly textured terms. They’re built in layers of paint upon the calligraphic markings that have become Singer’s visual signature over the past six years. She begins most of her works by scribbling these graffiti-like markings on canvas or wood, creating an intention for what’s to come.
“It’s not really saying anything, it’s like the first bit of energy that I put into that painting and put on canvas,” she said. “It’s almost like I can’t start a piece without this infusion of energy first.”
Singer’s family roots in Aspen go back to the 1950s, but she grew up elsewhere around the U.S. and raised her own family in Boulder, where she became a renowned jewelry maker. Singer moved back to the valley seven years ago and has worked out of a studio in the Third Street Center in Carbondale since then. She’s been collecting the scenes and symbols that make up “Storm & After” all her life. Singer grew up sailing off the Maine coast, and has lived in many places where darkness and harsh weather are the norm — Washington state, Maine, Sweden and Colorado — and sharpened her eye for the detail in shades of darkness, the textures of storm clouds, the thousand hues of rain and snow.
Along with the atmospheric storm scenes in the exhibition, Singer has included some more playful and ironic pieces. In “All My Elegant Friends,” Singer thumbs her nose at materialism, painting an abstracted party crowd in the top portion of the painting and mingling skeletons below, with festive red balloons rising in between. Her “Uprising” features red umbrellas rising toward a stormy sky above a desolate landscape.
“Usually an uprising is tumultuous, scary, violent and we have a lot of them happening in our world,” she said. “I wanted to do something that had a sense of uplifting, floating, uprising — like a fog clearing after a storm, kind of quiet and peaceful. So this came to me. It had to be painted.”
The show also includes a hint of what’s to come next from Singer. Her “To the Sea” is an anomaly among the “Storm & After” works, painted from a brighter color palette and a decidedly less stormy sensibility. It captures a crisp landscape – a blue sky meeting a blue sea and a sandy desert, through which a blue river flows.
“I think this is where I’m heading,” she said. “I like the simplicity, the purity.”
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