ARTIST OF THE WEEK: MAUDE WHITEMarch 22, 2017
This week we feature Maude White, an artist who creates beautifully intricate and detailed papercuts. She talks to us about how her skills are constantly expanding and developing within the art world. We talk frankly about growing up around creativity and the role this plays in mental and emotional health.
UO: Why and when did you begin to cut paper?
I began cutting paper about five years ago. My first project was a pop-up house. From there I moved to more intricate work, exploring as I went. I began cutting paper because I love the act of revealing, of making plain something hidden or secret. When I cut paper I feel as if the paper, my knife and myself are all in a relationship together, a dialogue. I feel as if we are friends. There is a great deal of magic to be found in paper. I am constantly awed by the knowledge that paper has been telling stories for centuries – with so many people and in so many ways! Truly humbling.
UO: Have you been brought up surrounded by art?
I was raised by a puppetmaker and toymaker and a writer. I have always been surrounded by creativity and the idea that art and craft are valuable and necessary and worthy of deep respect. I think handwork and physical creation is vital to mental and emotional health.
UO: What inspires you to create artwork?
I am inspired by nature and by the patterns and lines in nature. On a deeper note, I create because I want to share comfort with others. I believe art can be a vehicle and a messenger for comfort and companionship and I create art for the purpose of giving comfort and finding companionship with others. I am inspired by the need to share the beauty I find in the world and attempt to articulate in my work. Beauty, deep beauty, is a facet of love. In my own way, I create art because I want to share my love with others.
UO: Describe your creative process.
Very often, I work in themes. I find myself exploring all the ways I can cut a certain thing – flowers, elephants, birds, waves, women. It is hard for me to work on more than one piece at once, or to split my attention between different themes or ideas. I usually sketch up a rough idea of what I’d like the finished cut to look like then I start cutting. When working with a knife, the end result is completely final. There is no erasing, no painting over, no scraping away. One knife cut can destroy an entire project. Because of this, I have to allow for the piece to take shape in its own time and way. I’ve worked on pieces that took weeks and then found that the finished product was nothing at all like I’d imagined. There is a lot of patience involved in papercutting. Patience and forgiveness. I have to let the paper lead me sometimes.
UO: Have you seen your work develop over the past few years?
Oh yes, definitely. My work has become more intricate and delicate. I’ve also tried to become more conscious of the messages I’m trying to convey with my work. I am always learning and always trying to expand my knowledge. I do not have a formal art education so principals of positive and negative space, 3D design and proportion are always challenging and I’m constantly gaining new skill.
UO: Which paper cut piece was the most challenging to create?
All work is challenging in its own way. The knife is not forgiving. The large and intricate pieces are especially difficult because its hard to work over a piece and not damage cut areas as I hover over them. I have to be careful not to let my sleeves drag over delicate bits or let my arm crease a segment. There are certain pieces I’ve worked on for weeks, one or two of the women pieces and the larger birds.
UO: Do you have any advice for young artists or new artists?
You can create art for any reason and you can have your art convey any message that is important to you. I struggled for a long time because many curators and critics I came across seemed to want all the art that they handled to be disturbing and to have deep and unsettling messages. I felt I wasn’t an artist because my work wasn’t making people uncomfortable. I often felt I had to apologise for my work. Then I realised that the message of my art could be whatever I wanted it to be. It was up to me, not them. I wanted to create art that gave comfort and safety, that consciously and vigorously didn’t disturb, so that’s the art I made. That realisation was a huge revelation and joy to me. Don’t let others dictate what you are or whether or not you’re worthy. Keep creating and keep conveying your own messages, regardless of what you feel others might find acceptable.
UO: What do you like to listen to when you work?
I usually listen to audiobooks while I work. Lecture series, detective procedurals, stuff like that. I’m pretty particular. I don’t like stories where the main characters are in danger so that limits my options, haha. I’d listen to music but I usually find it too distracting when I’m holding a knife. If anything, I listen to old musicals.
UO: What other artists inspire you or inform your work?
Of past artists, I will always be inspired by Maxfield Parrish, Arthur Rackham and Andrew Wyeth. Each speaks to me of yearning, and tenderness and wonder. Of other paperworkers, I deeply respect Emma Van Leest, Elsa Mora, Hina Aoyama, Peter Callesen and Su Blackwell among many talented others. Other contemporary artists I find inspiring and moving are Catherine Willett (deep and thoughtful, aching work), Allison May Kiphuth (both tender and magical), and Cal Lane (powerful and empowering).
UO: Can you tell us about any future or current projects that you are working on?
Yes! I am currently working on my first book to be released by Abrams next spring! I am very excited to be bringing it into being. I’m not sure what’s next after this– I am sensing a need to create some 3D paperwork. I’m nervous to start because I know there’ll be a large learning curve!
See more of Maude White’s work here