June 27, 2008

Faded Tiger, Crumpled Lion

Over twenty years ago I collected decorative paper cuts from folk artists in China. Some of these artists used to come to the Beijing Central Art Academy where I was studying back then. Despite the reserve of the professors and researchers devoted to the “high culture” art of calligraphy and painting, their hearts melted at the sight of finely crafted folk art and they practically devoured it. So when the peasants sold their creative paper renderings of fantastic animals and people in traditional garb, I made certain that I got a share of these complex and colorful designs made from scissors and imagination. In the days before “Mad in China” became a household word, these things were rare and precious. I suppose the better ones still are - if you can find them.
I had purchased a set of paper cuts of various felines made by a young woman from Hebei. I later sought to preserve and strengthen them by taking them to a painting scroller to have them glue sized and mounted on backing paper. Unfortunately, during the mounting process, the unstable pigments ran profusely. Although the paper cuts were ruined I kept them anyway. All these years later they resurfaced among my father’s things when he was cleaning out after the death of my stepmother a few months ago. I took the poor bedraggled things home with me although by now they were even more faded and crumpled a bit as well. It occured to me that since they were ruined anyway I could collage them into paintings and reinterpret them. This week I brought them back to a second life as little folk paintings. I retained some of the worn look as I painted over them by not fully delineating the forms and by blurring the back round. They retained a primitive, naive optimism and love for decoration that I still associate with my early days in China.

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