“Playground Parachutes,” an installation of four large-scale murals by Isca Greenfield-Sanders made in collaboration with more than 200 children, will open Saturday at Vesuvio Playground, at the intersection of Spring and Thompson Streets in Manhattan’s SoHo.
Greenfield-Sanders, whose work involves manipulating a photograph through various iterations, based the public art product on an image from her 2008 parachute series, “Against the Fall,” which bowed at the Chelsea gallery Goff + Rosenthal that September. One of the paintings in the series, based on a Korean War-era photo, is in the collection of the Brooklyn Museum.
“When I made these in 2008, we were at war,” Greenfield-Sanders said. “My work is about vintage objects and the parachute felt an appropriate vintage object. The image had lots of elements that were quite childlike in face [of the parachutist], but it was a reference to a wartime image.”
The artist was careful to convey a message of hope. In choosing an image with a cloud and a single figure parachuting through the air, Greenfield-Sanders said, “I think the one I chose has more to do with a safe landing.”
Stacey Goergen, an independent curator and director of the nonprofit SmartSpaces, approached the artist about the park project. Goergen wrote a catalogue essay for Greenfield-Sanders’ recent show at the Wetterling Gallery in Stockholm. Both women have children attending the Grace Church School in the East Village, where Greenfield-Sanders herself went as a child.
“I loved the idea,” Greenfield-Sanders said. “It was an exciting opportunity to stretch what is my normal way of working.” “Playground Parachutes” required Greenfield-Sanders to remove her own hand from the project and allow the hands of many children to take part in producing her work.
Greenfield-Sanders gridded her parachute image into 72 square tiles, and using an established technique in her work, printed them in the four basic CMYK colors of blue, pink, yellow and red. Young artists were invited to the Children’s Museum of the Arts at 103 Charlton Street in TriBeCa where they were given a slimmed-down palate of colored pencils to work with. Greenfield-Sanders chose black, pink, blue and yellow, “so it had a sophistication to it,” she said.
While the idea of a crayon-wielding child running through the house sends shivers up the spines of most parents, the children involved with the project were guided through mark-making techniques by teaching artists at the museum.
“This was teaching the idea of collaboration. It was the idea of having them work like a jigsaw puzzle,” Greenfield-Sanders said. “The murals feel delightfully playful. The children drew with equal parts glee and sophistication. I was really inspired by these young artists.”
The children are invited to the unveiling on Saturday. “It will be interesting to see if they’ll try and find their panel,” Greenfield-Sanders said. “Some of them tried to enhance what was there and some were much more free form and made smiley faces, almost portraiture on top of the image.”
Three nonprofits made the project possible. In addition to the Children’s Museum of Art and SmartSpaces, which reimagines urban space as art venues, there was Green Below 14, an organization dedicated to improving open space in downtown Manhattan.
“I make paintings in my studio. I have my daily practice and I make my paintings in a very solitary way,” Greenfield-Sanders said. “I knew it would be a stretch to find time and space in my brain and life. I almost didn’t understand in what way. It wasn’t only for the art project, it was to collaborate.”