[Alyson Kuhn] On May 19, just before the National Stationery Show opened in New York City, I reveled in artworks made from paper at the Christopher Henry Gallery in SoHo. The exhibition A Cut Above presents the work of 12 “paper masters,” including four from the U.S. The pieces are dramatically different and inventive and inspiring.
Top floor of the Christopher Henry Gallery, with a hanging floral mobile by Zoe Bradley at rear
Diana Ewer, the exhibition’s co-curator, walked and talked me through the show. She comments, “Individually, these artists are all known, and praised, for their distinctive techniques and alternative approaches to working with cut paper. As a collective, the show provides an insight into how the medium has gained traction on the international art stage.”
Hina Aoyama’s Papillon 1 (2012, shown at top, 3 x 3-3/4 in.) is lacy and ethereal, cut with scissors from a single sheet of paper. I asked if we could possibly find out more about the scissors themselves and was richly rewarded. Aoyama, who was born in Yokohama, Japan, promptly wrote back from Ferney-Voltaire, France, where she now lives.
“I use only one pair of scissors, which were originally for embroidery. I got them in Switzerland and had them sharpened for doing paper cut-outs. The tradition of paper cut-outs in Europe came from China to the Netherlands in the 16th century. It then spread to other countries like Germany, but I’ve heard that Switzerland was the last one to ride the wave of paper-cutting culture in the 19th century. This kind of scissor for paper cut-outs was made during the 19th and 20th centuries.”
Grand Larousse by Guy Laramée (2011, 14 x 11 x 9 in.). Six volumes of the Grand Larousse French dictionary, carved into a landscape. The artist comments, “Mountains of disused knowledge return to what they really are: mountains. They erode a bit more and they become hills.”
Three artists in the show use entire books as the basis for their paper-cutting wizardry: Guy Laramée (whose artist statement on his site is a provocative treat, with an exquisite cut-paper illustration), Doug Beube (whose Pocket Book we featured here) and Brian Dettmer, with whom I had a chance to speak at length.
Dettmer comments, “I used a full set of Standard American Encyclopedias as the basis for this piece. I love how generic the name Standard American is. I made this in 2008, and it’s one of the first pieces where I used a whole set of encylopedias — 20 volumes — and connected them to make a larger piece. The books date back to the 1940s or 50s. It’s a set I had heard of, like Britannica or World Book.”
Looking at Standard American, my desire to look inside it is almost irresistible. Brian Dettmer’s phenomenally precise excavation of images is accomplished page by page. Here is the most extraordinary thing: Each image is still attached to its original page in the encyclopedia. So Dettmer places each image in a new context by excising the surrounding parts of the original page, and the selected image becomes part of the montage of illustrations.
Dettmer elaborates, “I think of each individual book as a cell or segment within a living creature — and also as a landscape. I sanded them to create the landscape, so they are all connected in a way. In today’s landscape, information is liquid, especially online. We are constantly losing things — like erosion, when a canyon is sanded away by a waterfall. Here, the information is cascading out and into a larger context — that of someone’s mind — or simply being washed away.”
Chris Gilmour has got to be the zaniest artist in the corrugated kingdom. Born in the U.K., he now lives in Udine, Italy. Over the past decade, he’s had a pair of solo shows in NYC and four in Italy; his work has also been featured in more than a dozen group shows, including one in San Jose, Calif., in 2008 that I just read about. I cannot believe I missed an exhibition titled This End Up: The Art of Cardboard. O, slay me.
The show has been extended until July 15. The catalog, compiled by Diana Ewer, is generously illustrated with large photos, including related works by several of the artists — such as Gilmour’s trio of cardboard world globes on cardboard stands.
Photos: Grand Larousse photographed by Guy l’Heureux, used courtesy of Guy Laramée and Lacerte Art Contemporain, Québec; Standard American used courtesy of Brian Dettmer and Kinz + Tillou Fine Art, New York; all other images courtesy of the respective artists and Christopher Henry Gallery, New York.