“Each piece is a puzzle”: Japanese-American cut paper artist Lauren Iida – artist profile

Fragile paper cutaways capture artist’s cross-cultural wanderings and family’s incarceration. 

Japanese-American artist Lauren Iida uses an Exacto knife, old photos and sheets of paper to reflect upon her family’s journey to America and her love affair with the culture and people of Cambodia.

Lauren Iida, 'Mother Asa', 2014, layered hand-cut paper and Sumi ink, 20 x 30 in. Image courtesy the artist and the SPU Seattle Portable Works Collection.

Lauren Iida, ‘Mother Asa’, 2014, layered hand-cut paper and Sumi ink, 20 x 30 in. Image courtesy the artist and the SPU Seattle Portable Works Collection.

Seattle-based artist Lauren Iida often imbues her delicate creations with watercolours and sumi ink, contemporising the oeuvre of paper-cutting. She serendipitously began considering the technique, Iida told Art Radar, after returning from an extended stay in Southeast Asia:

I came up with the idea out of necessity! ­ I was broke­ and found I could no longer afford to work in oil paints. I had years worth of compelling photographs and wanted to share their sentiments with others in an interesting way, so I began to develop my “paper cutaway” technique.

Lauren Iida, 'Self Portrait with Kabuki', 2016, hand-cut paper and oil pastel, 10 x 8 in. Image courtesy the artist.

Lauren Iida, ‘Self Portrait with Kabuki’, 2016, hand-cut paper and oil pastel, 10 x 8 in. Image courtesy the artist.

Iida graduated from Seattle’s well-known Cornish College of the Arts in 2014. Her work has been shown at both the Mayor’s Gallery and ArtXchange Gallery in Seattle. According to an article in newspaper International Examiner, Iida is “proficient in a variety of mediums” and from a young age was drawn to the visual arts:

Since I could hold a crayon I have been compulsively creating art. I am constantly inspired by new stories and ideas I am exposed to and discover, so I constantly create art.

Lauren Iida, 'Sweet Dreams', 2015, aquarelle and hand-cut paper, 11.5 x 17.5 in. Image courtesy the artist.

Lauren Iida, ‘Sweet Dreams’, 2015, aquarelle and hand-cut paper, 11.5 x 17.5 in. Image courtesy the artist.

Historically, the art of paper-cutting is associated with a Chinese craft technique dating back to the sixth century AD known as jianzhi (剪紙). This ancient technique relies upon the “creative use of negative space” and, as Iida relayed to Art Radar, can be deceptively difficult to master:

Cut paper is unlike most other mediums in its directness. It has the immediacy of a simple pen on paper drawing but the process of cutting creates a more interesting and graphic effect which I love. There is no set up, no clean up, no color mixing, no canvas prep, I just start cutting.

Each piece is a puzzle. I enjoy the endless challenge of deciding what to cut and what to leave intact to depict my desired images without cutting through the wrong spot causing the the whole piece to fall apart. In my cut paper world everything is delightfully simple. It’s positive or it’s negative. ­It’s there or it’s not.

Lauren Iida. 'John and Suzy Fukuyama', 2014, from the series "Castle Rock is for Lovers', hand-cut paper and sumi ink, 8 x 10 in. Image courtesy the artist.

Lauren Iida. ‘John and Suzy Fukuyama’, 2014, from the series “Castle Rock is for Lovers’, hand-cut paper and sumi ink, 8 x 10 in. Image courtesy the artist.

Much of Iida’s recent work is a collection of contemporary stories. On a slightly different and intensely personal note is the “Castle Rock is for Lovers” series. Here Iida delves into her family’s history of coming to the United States from Japan as immigrants and their internment during World War II alongside some 100,000 other people of Japanese ancestry suspected as “enemies of the state”. As Iida told Art Radar, this incarceration and discrimination strikes a troubling and particularly relevant chord even today:

“Castle Rock is for Lovers” is a series of paper cutaways I created in 2014 after I discovered a family photo archive my grandmother’s sister had been keeping since the early 1900s. It was a beautiful history of my family’s immigration to America from Japan, their establishment of a produce farm in northern California, their adjustment to American society and subsequent incarceration during WWII. This project was very personally important in my self­-education about my family heritage and very relevant to current immigration and anti-­Muslim issues today.

Lauren Iida, 'Longeat Hospital Behind the Lines', 2015, layered, hand-cut paper, ink and aquarelle 11 x 14 in. Photo: Alec Miller. Image courtesy the artist.

Lauren Iida, ‘Longeat Hospital Behind the Lines’, 2015, layered, hand-cut paper, ink and aquarelle 11 x 14 in. Photo: Alec Miller. Image courtesy the artist.

Aside from working with images from her family’s past, Iida uses snapshots from her trips to a distant land, Cambodia – a place where Iida has founded and supported several projects. In addition to working in Phnom Penh as a “social entrepreneur”, Iida told Art Radar that she has also spent time far afield, in the countryside:
I’ve been living in Cambodia for about half of the last 8 years. I first came here as a tourist but quickly fell in love with the country and its people and began several volunteer projects including working with families at the garbage dump, started a fashion social enterprise working with marginalised women, and most recently I was teaching art and English literacy in a remote rural area of the country. Cambodia’s incredible history, rich culture, and endlessly interesting people continue to inspire my work. On my travels I collect stories from the interesting characters I cross paths with. These stories are what my art is about.
Lauren Iida, 'Night in the Garden', 2016, hand-cut paper, sumi ink, aquarelle, colored pencil and ink 26 x 32 in. Photo: Alec Miller. Image courtesy the artist.

Lauren Iida, ‘Night in the Garden’, 2016, hand-cut paper, sumi ink, aquarelle, colored pencil and ink, 26 x 32 in. Photo: Alec Miller. Image courtesy the artist.

Iida’s work is currently being shown at Seattle’s ArtXchange Gallery through May 2016. Her solo exhibition “Life with Dogface” highlights the artist’s new work created in Cambodia and Seattle and according to Lauren Davis, the gallery’s Assistant Director, are refreshingly ethereal:

Lauren Iida’s work is bringing a fresh approach to the art of paper-cutting, which has roots in so many beautiful traditions around the world. The paper-cutaway aspect is so focused, and requires so much skill and attention to detail, but in her newest works she combines this technique with surreal drawing and painting, evoking emotion and gesture. Her artworks feel like windows into dreams and memories.

 Lisa Pollman

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Related Topics: Japanese artists, American artists, artist profilesart and the communityfragile art, historical artpaper

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