Tree of Life Review



AIRMAIL: Bodhi Blues — A Year in India: Questioning The Maitreya Project by Jessica Falcone

COLUMN: Storiedmusic — The Night I Walked Out by DJ T’challah

NOVEL EXCERPT: In a State of Partition by Aneesha Capur

UP THE CREEK: Editor’s Notes — Art, Yoga, and Abu Ghraib

The Cutting Edge —

An Interview with Artist Chris Resko

Philadelphia-based artist Chris Resko has spent years making unique and unusual papercuttings. Using only a variety of knife blades, he turns pieces of paper (and sometimes fabric) into beautiful two- and three-dimensional works of art.

The abstract designs in his work often have elements of real life in them — a series of lines and curves that may take on the shape of a face, a bird, or a dragon. The works are meant to be turned and viewed at different angles to show different line arrangements, making each viewer’s experience unique. While Resko has worked in a wide variety of artistic media, he finds himself drawn to paper. We recently met at a Szechuan restaurant in Philadelphia’s Chinatown to talk about the challenges and rewards of working in such an unusual way with what could be considered an ordinary medium.

Evil Ducky (detail), 2005
Metallic Paper, 16" x 20"

WRR: About how long have you been making art? Has it been a lifelong thing or a more recent interest?

I’ ve always been into art. I was fortunate enough to have a really supportive group of family and friends that encouraged me to be creative.

WRR: Were you always making papercuttings, or did you start out working in a different medium first?

When I was little, most kids wanted to be superheroes. I wanted to draw them. I started off drawing what I saw and anything I could think up. I liked to draw dragons a lot too. You can still see them in most of my work if you look hard enough. I discovered all different kinds of media in high school. Painting, woodcutting, photography, etc. In college I found that I loved working in charcoal. It’s a very forgiving medium. I only got into papercutting toward the end of art school. I developed my style and it’s constantly evolving. I cut the designs out of paper and various fabrics.

WRR: What was it about papercutting that really drew you to it?

Untitled 4, 2006
Mixed Papers, 5" x 7"

The art I wanted to make didn’t translate into painting or any other media as cleanly as it did with paper, with the exception of pen and ink. I like the subtle textures and finishes the paper brings to my designs.

WRR: What about the physical experience of working with the paper? It must be sort of challenging since it’s something of a different technique than just drawing something. What are the pros and cons of working with paper to make designs?

I just need a lot of space and a large cutting mat. I use X-acto knife blades. It’s very much like drawing to me. Some paper is more difficult to work with than others. It depends on the quality and how sharp the blade is. I use a ton of blades. There are so many varieties of papers out there though, Sometimes the color and texture of the papers will inspire the design.

WRR: That was going to be my next question. Your designs are somewhat abstract and yet there also seems to be a lot of form to them. Where do you get the ideas for your designs?

I start with a couple of shapes and keep turning the page at different angles, until I see larger forms within the design. Then I build off of that. Most of the work I do is meant to be turned at any angle you like. Every way you look at the pieces you’ll see something different.

WRR: So each piece evolves as you work on it. Actual works in progress. I guess that your mood would impact how a piece turns out.

Oh yeah. Some pieces you can tell what mood I was in when I did a certain section. Or at least I can tell.

WRR: I agree. Even though they all involve abstract shapes, for the most part, I can see a lot of differences amongst them. And I can see the shapes of nonabstract things too. Have you started to branch out from just making papercuttings for display?

Cylinder Lamp, 2005
Fabric and Paper, 12"

I have made a couple of lamps from fabric and paper. It takes a lot more work to get it to look as good as a framed piece and make it work. I was toying around with the idea of backlighting my work for years. I finally got around to it.

WRR: What have been some of your influences?

Witnessing the birth of the tribal tattoo trend. You know, when every frat boy got those stupid armbands — no offense if you have one. I thought I could do better. The next came after I had already started working with paper. Asian papercutting has been a big inspiration, particularly the Japanese. They tend to work in a more realistic style of actual scenes. The work is amazing.

WRR: Any particular artist(s) or style of this Japanese papercutting?

The Japanese call it Kiri-e. Masaaki Endo and Shoto Kimura are great artists. They tend to do portraits and scenes like they were paintings. Asian culture in general has an effect on my work as well. Lots of clean, simple lines and shapes. It’s in the characters that they write with, the architecture, and icons that you see every time you walk into any Chinatown anywhere. My pen and ink pieces are similar to Chinese calligraphy.

Profile, 2006
Mixed Paper/ Metallic Paper, 18" x 24"

WRR: So are you hoping to take your work down this sort of avenue moreso in the future, or are there other areas of art you want to explore?

I would like to work on a much larger scale. For that to happen, I would need to use some kind of fabric. Working in a larger format would definitly have an effect on my style.

WRR: So the size of the medium really affects the finished product?

Yeah. In the piece “My World,” I was able to work much smaller using pen and ink. When I decide to work in cut paper, the designs are larger because I can’t make cut shapes as varied as I can make them with pen and ink. In “Profile” I started to use layering to give a more varied look. With a larger format, I’ ll have more space to vary the shapes.

My World (detail), 2005
Pen and Ink, 10" x 16"

WRR: So it can be challenging to make really intricate details using the blade to cut them out?

Yeah, the paper will just shred if I try to cut too small.

WRR: What sorts of reactions do people have to your work?

Most people start to see things in them and get excited and start calling out what they see. Those are the kind of reactions I want. I want peple to see whatever their imaginations can think of. I love it when people show me things in my own work that I didn’t see before.

WRR: So each time someone views one of your pieces, you hope that they’ll discover something new... art that keeps on giving. Where do you want to go next artistically, other than on larger spaces? Are there any other media you want to try working in? Themes/subjects you want to explore?

Masks, 2006
Fabric / Mixed Papers, 8.5" x 11"

No real plans. I’m still having fun working with the materials I’ve been using, but who knows, I might have change my mind tomorrow. As far as themes go, I would like to do a series of panels with one cohesive theme that would flow from one to the other. Maybe an underwater theme.

WRR: Has it been hard working in a genre that’s more unusual?

Artists tend to play off of one another, whether it’s painting or sculpture. I don’t know of anyone else doing what I do. It’s different, so when people see the detail and shapes, then realize it’s made of paper, they’ re suprised. Papercutting has only been a folk art in the U.S. It’s good to go against the norm.

WRR: Do you have any parting words of wisdom for other artists, would-be artists, or even just lovers of art?

Just because it’s on display in a museum, doesn’t make a signed urinal a work of art. Thanks, Duchamp!

Chris Resko

Chris Resko

Chris Resko was born and raised in upstate New York along the Hudson River. He received his BFA in Graphic Design from Savannah College of Art and Design in Savannah, Georgia. He has worked in various media throughout the years and has been working with cut paper for over six years. He currently lives and works in Philadelphia.

ART: The Cutting Edge — An Interview with Artist Chris Resko
ESSAY: Jesus and the Guinea Pig (illustration)

Raquel Pidal

Raquel B. Pidal

Raquel B. Pidal, Contributing Editor

Raquel B. Pidal is a freelance editor and writer who has worked on a variety of projects, including memoirs, business and career management books and articles, health articles, book proposals, and novel synopses and analyses. She has also taught several workshops for children and young writers. Raquel graduated Cum Laude from Ursinus College with a degree in English and Creative Writing. She earned Departmental Honors for her senior thesis, a memoir about her Cuban mother, and has won several awards for her writing. Raquel’s creative nonfiction has been published in The Bucks County Writer, The Bucks County Review, and Wild River Review. She currently lives in Cambridge, MA, where she is working on her M.A. in Publishing and Writing at Emerson College. She writes a blog, CopyRighteous, about writers’ rights as part of her coursework, and she also works for the Emerson College literary magazine, Redivider.


ART: The Cutting Edge — An Interview with Artist Chris Resko