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.
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?
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?
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.
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.
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?
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!