Su Blackwell : papercuts
In secret forests small creatures lie low and trees whisper their stories to each other through their leaves and branches. Light plays games of hide and seek with shadows as solitary wanderers search out their destinations. Birds sing quiet songs of loneliness, despite the company they keep.
The storybook papercuts of Su Blackwell are evocative; imbued with a sense of melancholy and longing, of magic, mystery and intrepid adventuring on a childhood scale.
“As a child, I spent a lot of time playing in the woods near to my home, in my own make-believe world. I gave the trees names and believed they would protect me. I made dens, with curtains and carpets that I scavenged from home.”
After school, Su drifted into textiles at the local college in Sheffield, and discovered she loved it so much she continued, eventually receiving her MA in Textiles from the Royal College of Art in London in 2003. Now living and working in West London, she has designed large-scale theatre sets, she contributes to regular columns in Intelligent Life magazine and Harpers Bazaar UK, and her clients have included Disney-Hyperion, Penguin books, Oprah Magazine, Real Simple Magazine, British Airways and Vogue Deutsch, and has exhibited extensively.
Her foray into dioramas started after a trip to Thailand, when she found a beautiful second-hand book on the Kao San Road. “My father had passed away while I was studying at the RCA, and I was thinking about life, death, and the in-between. I created my first book-sculpture, ‘The Quiet American’, cutting moths from the book with a craft-knife. The piece was inspired by a Chinese legend, about two lovers whose souls re-emerge from burnt ashes in the shape of two moths. I began working with paper, because of its connection to spiritual rituals that I encountered in South East Asia, and this in turn led me to work with books, and fairy tales.”
She says although she always starts with an idea, it’s the materials that lead the work. And while textiles are still important to her, she says that paper is her medium of choice for several reasons. “Paper is more malleable to the hand, it has a visible memory. I am not tired of working with paper, in fact the more I work with it, the more fascinating it becomes. Fabric is less forgiving than paper.”
“Paper has been used for communication since its invention; either between humans or in an attempt to communicate with the spirit world. I employ this delicate, accessible medium and use irreversible, destructive processes to reflect on the precariousness of the world we inhabit and the fragility of our life, dreams and ambitions.”
Her influences are many, including Ann Hamilton, Joseph Cornell and Jonathan Callan. She says it was particularly Jonathan Callan’s show ‘Interference’ at The New Art Gallery in Walsall that had the most profound influence on her, for his ability to push the boundaries of materials.
There is always respect for the book. “I always read the book first, at least once or twice, and then I begin to create the work, cutting out, adding details. The detail is what brings it all together, the magic element. It is a tediously slow process.”
You can find more of Su’s work on her own website, www.sublackwell.co.uk.