Suffering for their art – papercut artists Chris Pope & Helen Lawn
It’s fascinating to discuss papercut art with Chris Pope and Helen Lawn, who are on a mission to bring the true nature of this ancient art to a wider audience.
Their papercutting work is evolving, and they are at pains to show that as a genre it is not just a hobby or folk art but a true artistic style in its own right, with a rich history.
Part of their artistic journey is expanding the boundaries within the traditional confines of the genre of papercut art. In addition to using colour and mixed media as well as a diverse array of subject matter, this extends to the realm of complexity. In fact, after the very many compliments their art generates, the next most common response to the complexity of some of the pieces tends to be a variation of, “You must be mad”, closely followed by, “How long did that take?”
The truth is, there is simply no way of telling beforehand how time consuming and complicated a design may turn out to be. Take the ‘Never Surrender’ piece featuring Winston Churchill. What started off as an idea to create a simple silhouette of the great man using his famous “We shall never surrender” speech, turned into what was then their most involved papercut, with an estimated 5-6,000 individual cuts. It was one of the very few designs Chris several times contemplated walking away from in despair given the complexity and time involved. Helen vividly remembers him saying he would never, ever, ever do anything that complicated again.
That was until he had an idea for a design earlier this year that they both suspected might be even more complicated. To say they had no idea how complicated is a colossal understatement. As with many designs, what started out as a simple idea, to create a poignant message within the windows of a high-rise office block, simply grew and grew and grew. It’s fair to say that not only did it consume Chris for 2-3 months of daily cutting, it also ensured he did no further papercutting for a further 2-3 months thanks to the tendonitis it left him with.
The resulting piece entitled ‘A Life’s Work’ is something that really needs to be seen in real life to comprehend the scale of work involved. Even large-scale photographs simply don’t do it justice although you can get an idea of the scale from the detail image with a 5p piece in the foreground. So, are they mad? Pass. How complicated? Comprising over 35,000 individual cuts (all by hand), the finished piece has 1454 windows, 1065 of which have a worker drone slaving away on a laptop. A further 277 people are queuing to get in, while a solitary person, bent double with a walking stick, is leaving the building. As for the message, they leave you to figure that out for yourself.
Their work has recently been accepted by the Chalk Gallery in Lewes and they also exhibited at the PURE autumn fair at Powder Mills Hotel, Battle, in October.
For further information about Chris and Helen’s papercut art visit www.popeandlawn.com.