If you look throughout history, some aspects keep showing up in cultures all around the world, some that evolved from others and others were created convergently from groups that never interacted. For example, every culture has its own form of weapons, their own form of music and most have their own fried dough food. One thing that changed the world more than any weapon or any instrument or even any food was paper. Paper evolved into creation at least three separate times and has had such a profound impact on how we live today that civilization as we know it could not exist without it. Paper is often used as a portable surface to be covered in different materials and different symbols. We write on it, paint on it, draw on it, etc but what if there’s another kind of art that seems to have evolved convergently as well. That is to say different cultures not only created paper but each came up with the idea to cut the artistic designs into it completely separate from one another with no interactions.
Not long after the creation of paper in China, papercut arts came into existence where the artist would cut the designs into the paper and create the art in the positive (what remains) and negative (what is cut out) space. I collectively refer to arts like this which involve paper being cut to create images in the positive and/or negative spaces. This is such a simplistic term but it encompasses, so far, over a dozen styles from different cultures throughout the world all within period (and there are even more out of period). For this display, I am comparing and contrasting two pieces that I cut that are equally complex and appear to be at completely opposite ends of the spectrum. One is in the Chinese style of jianzhi which dates back to the 4th century of Guan Yu, the Han dynasty general who was later deified as a god of war. The other is a page of a pergamano prayerbook from the very late 16th century/very early 17th century given to the Queen of France, Marie de Medici. At first glance, these styles have nothing at all in common being separated by over 5000 miles and over 1000 years. However, many aspects of these styles are actually very similar in not only the process to create them and the tools used but also in the uses of the art itself and the symbolisms used.
The goal of this display is multi-faceted but first and foremost is to share the beauty and the complexity of the papercut arts but also hopefully attract interest in trying them. As complex as these pieces look, the skills required to create them are very minimal (just requiring patience and practice) and the cost to start this art is one of the lowest of any art in the SCA. I got started a decade ago in my college dorm room using printer paper, a box cutter, and cardboard from the science building dumpster. The second purpose here is to test my own abilities as these two are of the most complex and technically difficult pieces that I have ever attempted. These were challenges that are full of mistakes if you know where to look but still are absolutely beautiful and yet these pieces are merely the midpoints in the pathways I am attempting for each of these styles. Thirdly, I wanted to take two ends of the papercut art spectrum and show that they may look very different and come from such different cultures but still have so much in common. The last reason is because I love my art, I love what I do, and I want to share it with you. I hope it inspires you to join me as a papercut artist or to pursue your own style of art, to think outside the box for less thought of ways to use common materials, and just enjoy art in general. If you would like to read more about the history of these styles, processes in creating them, as well as the comparisons I have mentioned, please read my documentation that is attached. If you have questions, comments, or would like to talk papercut arts, please feel free to reach out to me. Thank you.
These are absolutely stunning! I really enjoyed learning about the historical context and process in your documentation — I had no idea this type of paper art went back that far! And your example pics are very cool — thank you for sharing!
(Also, I have to say, your cat’s antics seem familiar…I’m wondering if they’re secret siblings with mine. I hope yours has learned a lesson and won’t do that again — but knowing how my cats are, I’m not holding my breath, and I wish you the best of luck keeping them away from craft supplies in the future.)
This is probably one of the neatest entries I’ve seen in a very, long time. What a unique project, but also one that probably involves far more patience than I could possibly give. I really like the dichotomy between “East” and “West” here as well. I find that we don’t give enough thought to this idea of the “Global Middle Ages”, and this definitely fulfills that. Yes, the time periods are different, however, I think you have a lot of room to explore how this craft moved along the Asian and European continents, probably even Africa as well. As you said, it’s like fried dough. Amazing work!
Magistrissa Anna Syrakousina, OL. Trimaris.
I am always in awe of you work! Really interesting to hear about the history of cutting paper and parchment to make designs. Of course, you know I can’t wait to see your work bound into a book.
Not only are these pieces gorgeous, but this was a great introduction to the different types and styles of cut paper art in different times and places through history. Really well put together!