The paper cut-out technique Storia dell’arte nera



A paper world

Cutting paper to make silhouettes is an ancient, universal technique

The technique of cutting paper to make silhouettes is ancient and universal; the whole world cuts out figures, from the Swiss cantons of Hauswirth to China, from a shadow theatres to modern and contemporary art.

These images are very suggestive both for those who make them and for those who contemplate them. As Henri Matisse wrote. “… You can’t imagine how much the sensation of flight that which has grown within me during this period of papiers découpés helps me to calibrate my hand better when it is guiding the scissors along its way. It’s quite difficult to explain. I must say that it’s a sort of linear, graphical equivalent of the feeling of flight…” (Scritti e pensieri sull’arte, Ed. Einaudi [Thoughts and writings on art])

The best way to make cut-outs is by using small scissors with straight, short blades and long handles, so that the smallest details can emerge in the line of the cut. In this way a form is created that is progressively detached from its background. Roberto Mussapi described Andersen’s cut-outs in the following manner: “… The scissors becomes the poet’s eye, the cutting ray of his glance after which there is no way to go back: the revealed form will never again return to nothingness” (La Forbice e l’Angelo di Hans Christian Andersen, Ed. Cappelli [The scissors and the Angel of Hans Christian Andersen]).

Matisse added: “To cut out forms from the liveliness of colour reminds me of the sculptor’s direct rough-hew …”.

In reality, the vibrant relief of paper cut-outs acquires its own autonomy, the fascination of a discreet three-dimensionality that is gradually exposed by the edges of light around it.

A form cut-out with this type of sensitivity will always be distinguishable from any other one, even when it is reproduced on paper without the use of particular techniques. The path chosen by the scissors always leads to results that can in no way be confused with any other.