Bird in the Wall and Others


I was born in Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1989 and spent an influential chunk of my childhood in Southeast Asia. A big turning point for me was living in Jakarta, Indonesia and being evacuated to Singapore in 1998. Witnessing a swirl of new approaches to political and spiritual authority, alongside new ways of communicating, connecting, and storytelling that utilized superstition and intuition was very eye-opening, to say the least.

I was a young, inquisitive sponge (still am), witnessing and drawing from everything that fascinated me. That same curious energy has encouraged me to research and explore the unknown and unseen subtle forces that are working with and around us daily, whether we acknowledge them or not. My research and inspiration has extended to quantum physics, syncretism, mystery schools, and many other philosophical and theoretical arenas.

My work plays with seen and unseen dimensions and the idea of overstepping the explained and physical.

Bird in the Wall, acrylic on canvas, 48”x48” 2014

Jess Underwood, "Bird In The Wall"
I painted a bird flying through an atmospheric brick wall. Each brick has a different spectrum or vibration that is being passed through and accessed by the bird and viewer. It is breaking out of the physical realm, accessing the unseen and making it my own reality. Our visual spectrum and what is beyond it is fascinating to me; that is why I am so keen on gradients and blending unexpected colors to create an atmosphere or dimension, while playing with ideas of depth and flatness. I use birds as the subject for a few of my pieces because birds are symbolically and literally in between what is above us or unknown and what is down here in our familiar physical reality. For example, the ‘birds-eye view’ that accesses the unknown from above and uses it to make moves below (in physicality). This is an expression of the concept, “As above, so below,” which I value and apply in my own life and work.

Knot View, acrylic on canvas, 48”x48” 2014

Jess Underwood, "Knot View"
This piece is about observing nature and natural forces. The voyeuristic point of view is alluding to the mutual witnessing relationship we share with nature. It is unclear at first whether we are looking through the blinds to the knot in the wood that resembles an eye, or whether it is looking at us.

Cocklobster, acrylic on canvas, 48”x48” , 2013

Jess Underwood, "Cocklobster"
This is a painting about the curious energy between two birds before they fight each other. There is a phenomenon that people say they can see or feel as the two birds approach each other in a fight. Right before they attack, they stop for a moment. Some onlookers say they can see the tiniest bit of smoke, or a presence of something there.

Wood’ve, acrylic on canvas, 48”x48” , 2013

Jess Underwood, "Wood've"
This is an earlier painting of mine. It is 2 wolf-like creatures made of wood coming though a flat yellow square. I referenced the wolves in the large Peter Paul Rubens painting that is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Wolf and Fox Hunt (1577–1640). Wolf and Fox Hunt is a jarring and beautiful painting — there are humans on horses with spears, horses are fighting the wolves, and the wolves are fighting the dogs. In Wood’ve the two creatures are rising from the wood (a symbol of nature and materialism to me) and also interacting with the flat yellow square and blue skyline, which serves as a metaphysical and actual background. I work with squares because they serve as a unit of one, referencing an individual, building block, or pixel. Or even something larger.

Dimension 1, acrylic on canvas, 20” x 16” x 5” , 2014

Jess Underwood, "Dimension 1"
Dimension 1 is a piece from a series, where I built up and sculpted the surface of the paint as high as possible and then cut into it, reaching back to a flat two-dimensional area. The titles Dimension 1, Dimension 2, etc. reference the process and meaning of accessing alternate dimensions and forces. Edwin Abbott’s Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions is known as a parable of spiritual dimensions and resonates with me. It is told from the point of view of a humble square that lives in a two dimensional world. One day he is visited by a three dimensional sphere that passes through the 2D world. First appearing as a tiny dot, then growing larger, then smaller and disappearing, the sphere leaves the square amazed and in disbelief until he sees the three dimensional world himself and it becomes real to him. Once the square’s mind is open to new dimensions, he tries to convince others of the theoretical possibility of the existence of a fourth (and fifth, and sixth …) spatial dimension even after the square is imprisoned for this. I love this story because like so many others, I feel like that square.

We may have tasted or experienced a bit of the infinite and otherworldly at a time when our day-to-day reality may not want to go there and challenge what is already “known.” This is why we turn to art, literature, philosophy and now new alternative and exploratory sciences. These are all pointing to what can not be easily said or measured and affirming the existence of what can not be seen.