With a sharp knife and intricate layers of bright paper, Tokyo-based paper artist Patrick Gannon creates characters that instantly intrigue.
"Regrets of a Mad Scientist"
"Until That Day, I Make My Home Down Here"
"All the Little Things Said"
Patrick and I sat down (separately, at different times and on different continents, at our respective computers) for a little interview.
BMCB: How did you get started with papercutting?
PG: Pretty much by accident. I'd always drawn and doodled, but being an artist hadn't even crossed my mind as a possibility until my mid-twenties when suddenly something clicked in my brain. Up until that point, I had pretty much no formal training, so I decided to go to art school for my MFA. One of my art professors suggested I use paper behind my pen-and-ink drawings to add a splash of color. From there, things just evolved.
For about two years, I experimented, combining all kinds of mixed media with the increasingly complex paper shapes: acrylics, oils, watercolors, scratchboard, etc. In the end, I came back around to the simplicity of paper and glue. It just felt right to me, natural.
Can you describe the technique a little bit?
Everything starts out as a scribble in my sketchbook; usually a really messy one that is indecipherable to anyone but me. After resizing it and tweaking the composition on the computer, I draw everything out on tracing paper. This is where I start to work out the layers and the positive and negative shapes. Next, I start diving into my piles of paper, trying to find the right combination of color and texture to create a sense of emotion or atmosphere. Cutting the paper can be very relaxing, almost like meditating. I try not to glue anything down until I'm happy with the way all the bits are working together. A sneeze can be disastrous.
"This Humble Contagion", work in progress
"This Humble Contagion", work in progress
"This Humble Contagion", finished
What is the creative process like for you?
Everything going on around me gets chewed up and filtered through my mind and ends up in my art. I studied English lit. in college so books and words influence my thought process all the time. I have a tendency to be overly analytical in my "real life", so when I'm making art I try to rely on instinct to provide the visual metaphors and symbolism. Some pieces start out as a single word or a phrase or concept that sticks in my head. Others will evolve out of sketches. Every once in a while, a piece will leap fully-formed into my brain, but that's a pretty rare occurrence. Usually I have to finesse or bludgeon them into shape.
How much time does it take to finish a piece, such as "This Humble Contagion"?
I was working on a couple projects at the same time, so I think This Humble Contagion took me about two weeks, from first sketch to finish. It kind of depends on how much time I have to dedicate to a piece. Most pieces get done in about a week. I've finished a few in two or three days. If I have the luxury, I like to let the piece sit overnight at some stages, just so I can look at it with fresh eyes the next day.
Who are your artistic influences?
There are tons. The myths and legends and fables I devoured as a kid. Arthur Rackham's fairy tale illustrations. The power and divinity of man in Michelangelo's work. Tim Burton's quirkiness. Life in Tokyo, the minimalism of Japanese design in general and Hiroshige's waves specifically. The dynamic action of American comics. The textures and patterns of the papers are actually a big influence, too.
What are you working on now?
I'm getting close to finished with a pretty big piece (for me anyway). I haven't come up with a title yet. I'm trying to play with the contrasts of solid and liquid, sharp jagged physicality and the swirling flow of thought and emotion. And fish. After that, I'd like to do something bright and maybe a little breezy for something coming up in August. I like to bounce back and forth between heavy, dark or conceptual pieces and fun or funny ones.
Where can my readers find your artwork?
"Battle Royal" is up at Gallery 1988 in San Francisco until July 18th. I'm really happy with the pieces in this show, and the rest of the artists are all amazing, so it's definitely worth a look.
I think, for the immediate future, the rest of my shows are here in Tokyo. But you can always find my work online at my website and, for my newest work, on my blog PaperCuts. There's a bunch up on Flickr, too.
Is there anything else you'd like to add?
Until I started working with it, I never realized how fascinating and beautiful something as simple as paper can be. Or what can be done with it. I imagine that's true for pretty much everything. I'd encourage everyone to be creative with whatever they have at hand.
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