Cut Paper Artist Bovey Lee: Work of Precision
Chinese Paper Cutting, or Jianzhi was the first type of papercutting design, since paper was first invented. Bovey Lee is keeping this highly specialized art form alive. This art form was used a lot by the Chinese nobility of earlier times who could afford such luxuries as skilled papercutters to entertain.
The oldest surviving papercut is a symmetrical circle design dating back to the 6 th Century. Since that time, the art form became hugely popular in China – and one legendary young man could actually cut elaborate designs in his sleeve! Women often used to paste gold and silver foil cuttings onto their hair, and men used papercutting in sacred rituals ‘ the whole idea of this craft was deeply ingrained into Chinese culture of old. From the 14th Century, papercutting’s popularity spread worldwide. In China it was traditionally a female activity, with every girl expected to master it and new brides judged on their papercutting skills. Bad news for those lacking finesse with sharp objects! Professional papercutters were, however, usually male and often gained notoriety for their craftsmanship.
Born in Hong Kong and based in Pittsburgh, US, Bovey Lee spoke with Creative Mapping about her exquisite and delicate work:
“Power, sacrifice, and survival are the three themes that connect all of my works.To know a piece is completed, I need to find certain rhythm and balance within the play of solid and void. I look for a kind of flow, elegance, and integrity.” Bovey Lee
ABOUT BOVEY LEE
CM: Where do you live? What & where did you study?
I was born in Hong Kong and live in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA. I studied fine arts at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. After finishing my Bachelor of Arts degree there, I went to University of California at Berkeley for my first Masters of Fine Arts degree in painting and drawing. Subsequently, I earned a second Masters in digital arts from the Pratt Institute in New York.
CM: Where does your passion for Chinese calligraphy come from?
I am a cut paper artist and work with Chinese xuan (rice) paper. Power, sacrifice, and survival are the three themes that connect all of my works.
A grade school teacher taught me Chinese calligraphy when I was ten. I love calligraphy because it suits my personality well; I like its immediacy and how much precision, focus, and patience it takes. It trains the eye, hand, and mind co- ordination like no other. In many ways, these are the same qualities that attracted me to cut paper.
CM: How did you become a professional creative, who are your clients and how do you market yourself?
I decided to become a full-time artist after nearly a decade of teaching in higher education, shortly after the success of my first cut paper solo exhibition in 2007 at my Hong Kong gallery – Grotto Fine Art.
I exhibit my works nationally and internationally. It’s what most artists do to reach their audiences. Bovey Lee Studio is my creative sanctuary where I work and meet with curators, critics, and collectors.
Bloggers and online art journals feature my works and I do a lot of interviews. I’ve a website (boveylee.com), blog (BoveyBlog), and Facebook page. My works are also included in books, magazines, and newspapers.
My first commission was two original cut paper works for the Hong Kong boutique of F. P. Journe, a Swiss luxury watch company.
CM: Work environment, preferred working programs/tools/materials/music?
I use fairly simple tools and materials. To create the digital templates that guide me to cut, I use Photoshop, Illustrator, and a printer. For cutting I use Chinese xuan (rice) paper, X-Acto knife and blades and cutting mat.
I prefer working in silence. If I listen to music, it’s on repeat, so my emotion stays constant for that block of time. Some of the musicians I listen to repeatedly are Tom Waits, My Morning Jacket, Teddy Thompson, Adele, and Bob Schneider.
CM: What’s your creative process, from inspiration, through to the execution of your paper cuts?
My creative process is three-fold; drawing, digital rendering, and hand-cutting. I form ideas by sketching before creating a digital template. The template is a visual guide that consists of downloaded images, my own photographs, scans from magazines and books, and vector graphics. The final step is for me to hand cut the image with an X-Acto knife.
CM: When do you know your cuts are truly a finished work?
Over the course of making a cut paper work, I spend time looking and thinking as it progresses. To know a piece is completed, I need to find certain rhythm and balance within the play of solid and void. I look for a kind of flow, elegance, and integrity. I’m always immensely gratified the moment a cut paper work is finished.
CM: Your biggest achievement to-date?
My biggest achievement to date is to be able to do what I love.
CM: Biggest challenges as a creative such as blocks, loneliness etc.. – how do you deal with it?
Because my process is naturally slow and labour intensive, I don’t produce a large amount of works. It’s been the biggest challenge because the world we live in loves to rush and hurry. People are always surprised by how much time is necessary for me to complete a single work. They tend to have hours and days in mind, while it’s really weeks and months most of the time. I’m finding ways to increase the number of works I create and having studio assistance helps.
CM: Where’s your favourite place to escape to?
I like going to a trail near where I live and take long walks. I’m lucky to be in western Pennsylvania where Laurel Highlands are so beautiful and offer lots to do. There’s also reading, and watching movies which takes me to imaginative worlds for moments separated from the hustle and bustle of everyday.
CM: What inspires you the most in your city?
Pittsburgh’s landscape is rich with rivers, bridges (the most in the world), hills, industrial remnants, high rises, and green spaces. I created several large cut paper installations referencing that in a solo exhibition entitled ”Paper Streets.” Paper streets are the steep staircases that go nowhere but exist on maps as legal streets in many Pittsburgh neighbourhoods.
CM: Are you part of a creative community?
I believe in giving back to the arts community and sat on a board in the past. I’m a member, and have been supportive of, the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council. There’s a group of cut paper artists I also talk to.
CM: Favourite blogs and magazines?
I read DesignBoom, Art Radar Asia, Huffingtonpost and the New York Times online.
I subscribe to Time.
CM: Which national and international festival/trade-shows are a must for you?
There are several art fairs I participate annually, including Art Asia and Pulse in Miami, ART HK and Fine Art Asia in Hong Kong. In March this year, I’ll also have works in Scope in New York.
CM: Favourite suppliers?
The Chinese mounting master who hand mounts the xuan (rice) paper on silk for me.
CM: Dream project and collaboration?
I have many dream projects; one is a solo exhibition that allows me to create large and site-specific installations. I also want to experiment cut paper techniques in architectural sites and public spaces. I’d love to collaborate with musicians, writers, animators, and filmmakers.