Having lived with myself for as long as I can remember, I have to admit that, even to this day, I am constantly fascinated by the enigma that is myself. Then, on other days, I find myself about as exciting as dry toast. If you are also in this latter group and would prefer not to know anything more about Patrick Gannon, artist person, you need not read any further. On the other hand, if you think that reading me chattering on about paper and life would enrich your day, then I heartily welcome you to dive in!
Gratifications First, I need to thank a couple websites for thinking my work was kinda neat, and telling folks about it: The good folks at Visual News started the lovefest. (Thanks!) TrendHunter kept it going. (cheers!) and Neatorama brought it home. (ありがとう!)
Exhortations No blog posting this month would be complete without a touch of shameless self promotion. If you have somehow escaped my haranguings thus far, your luck has just run out. Hop on over and check out The 2012 Cut Paper Art Calendar campaign (or read about it on PaperCuts).
Confabulations Now we get to the meat of the matter and suck the marrow of the broken metaphor. Spanish newspaper and website 20minutos.es were gracious enough to interview me. Topics covered include paper, Japan, the groping of artwork, and analog versus digital. Presented in Spanish.
I took 5 years of Spanish in school. Sadly, the moment I jammed a few Japanese words into my noggin, all the Spanish came spilling out. For those of you, like myself, who are liguistically-challenged, I present the questions and answers in their original, unedited maximum verbosity.
At the time, this article was on my mind.
First of all, who is Patrick Gannon? Occupation, date and place of birth, likes and dislikes... I was born in northern New Jersey in the United States in 1971. For the first couple years of my childhood, I lived n a typical suburban cul-de-sac. When I was in second grade, my family moved to a small farm not so far away. At that time, the area was almost completely undeveloped, and there was nothing but grasslands and forest all around our house. The land backs up onto the enormous Waywayanda State Park, where my brothers and I spent a huge portion of our childhood playing, exploring, and occasionally getting chased by bears and wild dogs (real and imaginary). That smashing together of nature and suburban (and later urban) culture has been a huge influence on me, as has the somewhat solitary country lifestyle.
My primary occupation is as an artist. I specialize in cut-paper art, creating images out of layers of painstakingly cut and arranged colored paper (usually Japanese handmade washi papers, these days). I started off doing illustration with a much simpler style, then gradually segued into gallery work.
I like hiking through the mountains, blue skies, good conversations, books (both intellectual and pulpy), going to museums with my wife, my wife, and discovering new food and new people. I love doing my work. I don't like... well, honestly I don't spend much time thinking about things I don't like. I'm not crazy about earthquakes these days (I was in Tokyo when the Big One hit earlier this year and got shaken up for a few months).
How would you define your work?
I create cut-paper art (some people call it collage, some call it assemblage, in Japanese it is kirie 切絵 which means cut pictures). As a paper cutter, I try to create a dialog between the traditional technique of paper cutting (kirie) and contemporary art and thought; the technique becomes a string connecting the past to the present, and hopefully humanizing complex concepts and abstract ideas.
Thematically, I'm fascinated by the often-violent, often-sublime convergence of humankind, the natural world, and our secret personal mythologies. Relationships form the core of my work; most recently the symbiotic and parasitic alliances and inter-dependencies which spring to life in congested urban environments as well as in our more personal microcosms, along with those most human of needs - acceptance, inclusion, communication.
Why paper? What possibilities does that material offer you?
That's a great question, because making art from paper, by its nature, defines, and in some ways limits, the final work. Its much harder to get soft edges with paper, as opposed to paints. So why use it? Because I love the textures and the smells, and the hard edges, the patterns of chiyogami, the roughness of the pulp. I like to approach the paper as a kind of found-object art; I alter it as little as possible other than cutting. The shear variety of handmade papers available is astonishing, and the mix of textures and color beautiful. My work builds on top of the craftsmanship that went into creating these papers. The complicated process of puzzling the pieces together, of building layers is a thrilling challenge.
The short answer is that it just feels right. From the very first cut-paper piece I made, the knife felt right in my hand, and the whole process felt more fun and natural to me than any other medium.
Paper is one of the oldest man-made materials, and one of the most versatile. It can be used to build flat or 3-dimensional objects. It can be cut, twisted, folded, bent, and easily manipulated in a thousand different ways. It can be opaque or translucent - I hope to do more work with illuminated art in the future. It can be bold or subtle. For me, I find the limits of paper actually make me more creative in using it.
You live in Japan, but you are from New Jersey. How is that mixture of worlds present in your works?
I think it is in everything. There's a constant collision of Western and Eastern ways of doing things in my everyday life. My life in Japan has been primarily urban, and the way that interacts with my my rural upbringing is a huge part of what I do. I think most of it happens on a subconscious level; the boldness is probably American, while the more introspective and subtler touches may be from my time over here. I know I've incorporated some Japanese design touches into my work - some compositions and the use of negative space - some of that was intentional and some just happened through absorption.
Where do you search for inspiration? Tell me a little bit about your creative process. I find inspiration everywhere. Some of it comes from other artists, both contemporary and classical, cut-paper and other mediums. Alot of it comes from pop culture like music, movies, books. Many of my ideas come as a reaction to everyday life. Instead of reacting to a specific event though, I try to look at it from the perspective of emotional cause and effect.
Half the time, my work starts off as an idea - sometimes as simple as a single word. Other times, it will start off as a scribble in my sketchbook which is searching for a concept. Both of these get combined and finessed into an image that has a specific meaning to be, but still has enough ambiguity that others can connect with it.
Please, tell me about the technical aspects of your work.
Each piece starts life as a tiny sketch, or group of sketches. I work out the overall composition small, maybe a few inches tall. Details like faces and hands are drawn separately. I scan these images into my computer, enlarge them to the size of the final art, fix the overall composition, combine all the different pieces, and print it out. Then I do a final drawing on tracing paper. This is the step where I work out all of my layers - what goes on top, underneath, can I play with an illusion of depth.
The next step is the most fun and the most challenging. Picking the papers. I try to start with one foundation sheet - the color and texture of this page will determine the emotional content of the whole piece. I'll try to get all the important colors chosen before I cut anything.
After that, I start transferring the image bit-by-bit to the back of the chosen papers. And I cut. I lay the finished pieces down in their respective layers as I go. I'm always re-evaluating the overall piece, making sure everything works together. I try to leave myself open to changing a layer or a color as the piece evolves. The least fun part is the gluing.
Do you feel strange creating in a totally analogic way in a world ruled by digital processes?
I adore my computer. It would be impossible to do my work without it- especially keeping up with current events, new techniques, clients and the art world all over the globe. Having said that, it is a relief to step away from the digital into the analog. We are analog creatures. Our hands want to touch, feel, and manipulate. I try to create art that people want to touch (but please don't!). Cutting feels meditative.
Its the opposite of strange. It feels like the most natural thing in the world.
One paper cut you'd like to create but you can't because technical difficulties or lack of time.
I don't think there is any "one" piece I haven't been able to make. Whatever concept or idea I have can be adapted to the tools available at that time. There are some general areas that I really want to experiment with, though! I want to try my hand at bigger pieces. My work has become so detailed that the sheer amount of time it takes to create a huge piece limits me right now. The small size of Japanese rooms contributes too. I'd love to play around more with illuminated cut-paper pieces, to see how I can combine my layered techniques with those traditional arts. And I have one secret experiment that I just haven't had time for which will be a real challenge technically and conceptually.