“I was a late bloomer,” Mia Pearlman, 37, tells me, as she welcomes me to her super-organized studio at the Marie Walsh Sharpe Space Program in DUMBO (Down-Under-Manhattan-Bridge-Overpass), Brooklyn. “Everything has happened in the last five years. I started making cut paper sculpture at the end of 2007, and by the end of the year, I’d had eight shows in three countries.” Last year, Mia was awarded a NYFA Fellowship (New York Foundation for the Arts), and she recently landed two permanent commissions.
Visually, the small space has many zones of art projects, including drafting and work tables, supplies, business, ideas, books, works in progress. An open notebook neatly lists dozens of “unseen” TO DO tasks. Nearby, big white notebooks hold Mia’s current projects – One, a site specific cut paper installation at the Renwick Gallery at the Smithsonian American Art Museum opening July 20; Uplift, Boston’s Liberty Mutual indoor-outdoor permanent installation due for completion in June, 2013; and Soar, the MTA project for 2015. A fourth notebook contains potential projects. One, Uplift, and Soar respectively claim the center, front, and back areas of the studio.
Mia’s signature paper sculpture dominates the studio center – from floor to ceiling: ink on white knotted, swirling, “foamy” layers that are gently twisted or tacked into place – this is only a portion of a project for the Renwick Gallery’s 40 Under 40: Craft Futures show that she’s been working on for over a year. Mia tells me that, coincidentally, knotting paper turns out to be a Shinto tradition in Japan.
Mia’s idea is to create two installations in the gigantic arched facing window niches – 16 ‘ high x 11’ wide x 7’ deep — in the Renwick’s Palm Court. It features cascades of paper that are dark on one side and become light as they swirl through to the opposite niche. Light and dark inspirations for One include Tawaraya Sōtatsu’s screen painting Waves at Matsushima [at the Freer, a Smithsonian sister museum] and Japan’s recent cataclysmic tsunami waves. “I’m trying to create something that viewers will have a visceral reaction to when they walk into the room. It’s the biggest installation I’ve ever done.”
Uplift images for Liberty Mutual’s new corporate headquarters in Back Bay, Boston are “top secret.” Half of the intricate, waterjet-cut stainless steel and aluminum sculpture will be on a triangular plaza in front of the building; the other half will hang inside a two-story atrium “swirling around like autumn leaves, birds, or air currents.” The cut metal will create dramatic shadows — a little sparkle — and act as a visual bridge between the community and the company. Mia’s process is usually intuitive and by hand. The model for this piece “started with small pieces of paper cut to scale; I cut them; formed them; made them in aluminum by hand; put them back into paper, scanned them, traced them, then sent vector files to a guy in California who photo-chemically etched them out of the material. This iterative process started with cut paper.”
A final project outlined on one wall is Soar, a waterjet-cut stainless steel project for an elevated platform on the A Train in Queens. Half scale models of the screens rest on the floor below the proposal.
Mia alerts me that the studio is messy when she is cutting paper and that her larger studio in the Boerum Hill section of Brooklyn is filled with plants, an assistant, and two interns, who help knot paper for the Renwick. See www.MiaPearlman.com for updates!
Next month: an outdoor art studio!
— Jan Garden Castro
Featured image: Mia Pearlman in her studio. Photo Credit: Jan Garden Castro