The Cut-Outs Statement
By Katerina Lanfranco
I first started making cut-outs during a semester at the Universitat der Kunst in Berlin, in 2004. While trying to make the most out of my time in Berlin, I worked primarily in paper, painting on paper with acrylics as well as gouache and watercolors. It was a means to work with materials that were more immediate than large stretched canvases. At the same time, I was cutting out botanical forms from glossy pages of botanical illustrations, and remember turning them over and liking the accidental image created by the silhouetted cutout in the interior of the page. It was a primitive way of creating a hybrid botanical species between two different specimens. I was very interested in hybridity at the time, both in terms of materials as well as content, especially in regards to nature, and human technology such as biotechnology. Feeling limited by the small scale painted landscapes I began to carve out plant forms from these paper painted landscapes. During my 3 months of travel through Europe that same spring, I found a lovely book of Scherenschnitte (German scissor cuts) of botanical specimens. I loved the simplicity and directness of the silhouette that was simultaneously straightforward, but also evocative and complex.
After completing a multidimensional and complex MFA thesis project in 2006, I travelled along the West Coast (California and Oregon) during the summer and wanted to make work that was portable and required minimal supplies. This was the beginning of my “Black Botanical” series (imaginary flora from deep sea/space). I was drawn to the exacting quality of working with a medium and method, where each mark/cut was evident. It demanded my full attention and concentration, leaving no room for second guesses or changing direction. I used small cutting blades to create the silhouetted forms that required a certain mental volleying between positive and negative space to keep the form legible and the paper as a single unified piece without falling apart. These black paper cutouts harmonized a variety of shapes, patterns, and motifs; and remain unified in this shadowy form. The cut-out was the ultimate synthesizer of complex and divergent elements. I created the “Black Botanical” works first out of paper, and then moved to painted canvas to increase the scale. For this, I had to switch from X-acto knives to scalpels. This added danger of the tool, led to a new level of precision in my studio practice, since a slip of the knife could be disastrous. In 2010, as a JUSFC NEA Creative Arts Fellow, I studied the traditional Japanese art of paper cutting during a 6-month residency Kyoto. And then, when I had the chance to expand the cut-outs to a room-sized installation in an exhibition at the Mary Porter Sesnon Gallery, in Santa Cruz, California, I chose black Tyvek as my material, for its paper-like quality, and synthetic durability and strength.
After this huge cut-out endeavor, I wanted to add color back into my cut-outs, and prepared paper with colored stains and acrylic paint treatments. The Matisse Cut-Outs show at the MoMA was a pivotal re-awakening of my creative esprit into the world of cut-outs. (I teach an online studio course called “Experimenting with Collage” that I developed with the MoMA; and in it is a week that I give guided instruction on “Drawing with Scissors” in the style of Matisse. For this I did extensive research and close studies of Matisse’s cut-out works. I also recently gave a paper cutting workshop at the MoMA Studio: Beyond the Cut-Outs, and left wondering what could I add to this formal dialogue that paid homage to his work, but also brought it into a contemporary dialogue.) Matisse was emphatic that cut-outs were a way to draw with scissors, and that cut-outs are the ultimate unification of color and line in one gesture. There is a looseness that the rhythmic dance-like scissor cutting that Matisse uses in his cut-outs. I think that the single fine blade of an X-acto knife opens up a level of precision and change in speed. In my work, I keep the lyrical smooth organic lines, but combine them with sharp, angular, and precise geometric shapes.
My most recent and exciting discovery in the world of cut-outs was to incorporate the duo-tone painted paper in a way that could show both sides of the paper – through folding, weaving, and bending. This was a huge breakthrough for me on how to develop the cut-out. Now in addition to the cut-outs functioning primarily as silhouettes, I could add color complexity, volume, a third dimension, and layer interaction. There resulted a new and heightened level of concentration and anticipation of what each cut added to an artwork. Now it was not only about cutting away, instead the objective would be to work with both sides in mind and how scoring the paper could it allow it to fold over but remain attached, and how bending could also add a 3D element to the work. The cut-out form continues to be a vital part of my studio practice that harnesses my diverse interests into a single embodied piece of paper.