Chris Pope & Helen Lawn – papercut artists
“Creating something by taking something away. It’s 2D sculpture”
Papercutting is an art form we have only just become familiar with after discovering papercut artists Chris Pope and Helen Lawn in Tunbridge Wells.
They have recently opened their gallery in the town which features their creative work. We spent a short time with them at the gallery chatting and viewing their work, by which we were knocked out. We wanted to know more about them and their art and so in November we met over lunch at the cosy Java and Jazz café in Forest Row. They are a very hard working couple, fitting in their creativity with their current day jobs, which is no mean feat as they are both professionals in their fields. We discovered however that any stress, effort and patience needed during the hours of 9 to 5 was nothing compared to the long hours, concentration, dedication and sheer persistence needed to turn out good quality papercut art.
Papercut art seems to have begun in China at least as early as the sixth century and many moons later it had eventually spread to Europe. Perhaps the best known proponent currently in the UK is Rob Ryan, who has worked with fashion designers, has a wide range of commercial papercut products, has illustrated books such as ‘The Gift’ by Carol Ann Duffy and has also written a series of books himself using papercut art.
But what about Chris and Helen? How did they become involved in papercutting, what’s their story? Chris tells us, “After we met we discovered we each had many things in common, which included an interest in papercut art. We both had Rob Ryan prints for instance. We love his work. We were both highly creative independently. I was more of a frustrated creative, a singer/ songwriter, poet, photographer – a tinker.”
Helen added, “I always had a sense of the aesthetic, an appreciation of beautiful things. I had always loved design and creating things, sketching and painting.”
Chris continues, “We both had to be creative day-in day-out in our work, coming up with creative ideas for clients, and as our relationship developed we thought why not create together? We both had a passion for papercut art, so Helen bought a kit and we began to try our hand at papercutting, to see how difficult it would be.”
Helen takes up the story, “I had looked into a number of papercut artists such as Emily Hogarth, a Scottish artist whose work is really beautiful, and in the gallery of a Brighton artist I discovered a papercutting kit and was intrigued to know if I could turn my hand to it. It’s not easy to do at all, to perfect it; I wanted to explore it further, maybe this was a medium to express myself, creating something by taking something away.”
Soon after this Chris ‘disappeared’ for two weeks, created a design and showed Helen. They realised this was a creative form they could collaborate on. They tell us there are different ways of cutting and one’s fingers need taping to protect them as profile scalpel blades are used and there is absolutely no room for error. Helen says, “Everything is connected to everything, it’s very elaborate and involves endless mental gymnastics.” The correct type of paper is important as it’s such a delicate process. Acid free, archive quality paper is preferred.
Both described in detail the minutiae and idiosyncrasies involved in the craft, which has proved too lengthy to repeat here, but do visit their gallery and speak with them. They are very personable and very happy to talk about any and all aspects of their work. They point out that they are not in any way trying to emulate other papercut artists. They hesitate to say they are hoping to push the boundaries of papercutting art, but they are passionate, with a plethora of innovative ideas and are certainly on a journey towards creating a unique contemporary take on this ancient art form.
The Pope & Lawn gallery can be found at 3a John Street, Tunbridge Wells and is typically open between 11:00am and 5:00pm Monday to Friday. All the original pieces are available to view as well as buy. As it is a working space, people wanting to attend at a specific time are encouraged to contact Chris and Helen via www.popeandlawn.com, where their work can also be seen.