Jordan Parah was just a child when she threw a plastic bag into the air. She liked to watch the wind take it, blowing it in different directions. She still remembers her fascination, the moment of amazement: She could see the wind.
Today, Parah owns her own business, Parahdise Sculpture, and creates abstract metal sculptures for clients in her Greenville studio. But she still thinks back to that childhood moment with the plastic bag. “It’s what I’m trying to convey with my work today as an artist,” she says. “I always go back to that moment because it was when I was the most creative. We have the strongest imagination when we’re children. I want to keep pushing myself to try new things when I work — to go outside of the box.”
Our State sat down with Parah to learn more about her metal sculptures and what inspires her work today.
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OS: How did you get into sculpting?
JP: I’ve always been creative. My mom said that around age 2 or 3, I was identifying objects and drawing them. I would sit in my room and draw my Beanie Babies. She always nurtured my creativity. I was always playing with building blocks. I would take all the pieces out of my dollhouse and create my own furniture out of Q-tips and tissue and cotton balls — whatever I had available. I would even sell those little creations on the side of the street. People would pull up to my stand, thinking I had lemonade. But no, I had cotton balls and Q-tips! In college, I realized I wanted to be a sculptor professionally. I knew that it was my passion. I was drawn to metal because of its permanence.
OS: What was it like to turn your passion into a profession?
JP: It was very difficult becoming a sculptor. You have to obtain all this very expensive equipment. You have to figure out the direction you want to go with your work, and what you’re trying to say with it. That took a while to figure out, but it gets easier as you go. I hope to be an example, especially for young women — to try new trades and to try doing what they love or what they have a connection to. I think that’s really important.
OS: How did it feel when you completed your first commissioned piece?
JP: It was a large-scale commission for a family in New Bern — an abstract seagull being carried on the wind. It was probably about 10 feet tall. It was just the most incredible feeling to have accomplished that, and to know that this is the direction that I want to go with my work. It was validation as an artist.
OS: How do you create your sculptures?
JP: Typically, I begin with sketches, especially if I’m working with a client on a commission. I do a few drawings, and sometimes I make little paper models for them just to get an idea. But with some pieces, I don’t force it; I don’t draw anything out. I just handle it one piece at a time. You’re really kind of exploring. I start with a big sheet of metal, and I plan out my shapes onto the metal and plasma-cut them out. Then I bend the pieces, and if they’re very thick pieces, I send them through a ruler. Then I weld them together.
OS: What is the heart of your work?
JP: In a lot of my work, I’m trying to challenge the intrinsic properties of metal. I want to form them into unique, harmonious compositions. I’m trying to connect these contrasting forms, shapes, and colors to create a nexus between the sculpture and the fundamental principle that all people are different, yet all people are equal. Typically, I like to work with steel, aluminum, stainless steel, and a little bronze. When I’m working with aluminum, I create sand marks and grind marks on the contrasting forms, and as I’m assembling them in this fluid manner, I’m able to capture the light from all different directions. To me, that’s symbolic of bringing different perspectives together. I’m thinking of someone else’s perspective and the idea of putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. I have to remind myself to do that every day, and I think it’s really important. I think if we all did that, it would make the world a better place.
OS: What else inspires you?
JP: My family, music, visual arts. I’m constantly inspired by natural elements like wind, water, fire, movement, the seen, the unseen. And I don’t try to force my inspiration.
OS: What’s the most rewarding part of what you do?
JP: The most rewarding part is seeing my clients’ faces when they see their finished piece of art. There’s nothing like it. My favorite thing to make is the larger sculptures because you know how much time and dedication you’ve put into them. I love to see the finished product in its environment.