The young artist Su Huan – creator of paper worlds – has chosen an ancient art into which to channel her creative energy. She focuses on mark and movement, the fixity of our artistic imaginations and the malleability of the material, whether she is creating two or three-dimensional work, as small as a stamp or as big as a Renaissance tapestry. In her hands, paper becomes a precious embroidery, revisiting one of the most ancient Chinese traditions, as she cuts and works the paper with exceptional ability. A poetic halo dances around her creations, which are fascinating for their ethereal beauty, their precision and the amount of detail.
Tell us a little more about your background – what led you to what you are doing now?
I have loved Chinese folk art since I was a child. I enjoy observing all kinds of traditional folk customs and manual skills in life and on the media and have also done work by hand. At university, I majored in Biotechnology but was unable to continue with Chinese folk art throughout. Later, I came across the Chinese Folk Art Major course at the Central Academy of Fine Arts and was determined to get in. I am now engaged in research into Chinese Folk Art and the Intangible Cultural Heritage, and have created art through paper cutting. While studying, my supervisor Mr. Qiao Xiaoguang educated and encouraged me a lot. I now have the chance to do what I like thanks to heartfelt love and good luck.
You have a very unique approach and style when it comes to paper art! How did you come up with it? How long does a piece take to make?
Art is record and expression, and paper cutting is my way of conveying emotions and recording life. All the moments and feelings in ordinary life can provide the creative materials. Inspiration comes from life and feelings, which can be either momentary or enduring. I’m impatient, so when an idea strikes, I will work on it immediately to capture the inspiration while it is fresh.
What do you want people to feel when they look at your art?
What the viewers feel will certainly differ from the artist’s original intention, as the saying goes: “There are a thousand Hamlets in a thousand people's eyes.” I don’t expect people to have the same understanding of the work as me, because that would be unrealistic, but I hope that my work can trigger a momentary sensation – they may find beauty, they may find the artform interesting and may be able to “read” their familiar stories in paper cuts, which is the process by which people enjoy the art, and any sensation is encouragement for me.
Is there something that you are currently working on, or that you are excited about starting that you can tell us about?
Paper cutting is my expressive language, and I want to tell the stories around me and record my own feelings through paper cutting. Paper cutting is an irreplaceable form of artistic expression, craft and technique. Some time ago, I tried to capture a moment and a real scene redolent of civic atmosphere through paper cutting. I want to make paper cutting become more “readable” and more interesting, and I’m attempting to find how to better create this effect through paper cutting.
My creative inspiration comes from life on one hand and from art on the other hand. Not just my own life in the city, but also the life of others from the villages. Art does not just mean classical and mainstream art; it also includes Chinese folk art. I majored in Research into Chinese Folk Art, so I often need to go very deep into the villages and try and find out about the life and art of the folk artists. Fine observation doing fieldwork has deepened my understanding of life, and trivial matters, stories and legends and everyday articles of rural life have touched and inspired me; simple and direct creative purpose and the simple, unconstrained artistic tension of Chinese folk art in particular trigger my reflections on art, and these insights influence my artistic viewpoints and creative inspirations.
Does paper quality matter in your art? What tools would you recommend?
Certainly. The main tool for paper cutting is scissors or a graver, but there are all sorts of different materials, such as paper, cloth, fur, leaves and sheet metal. Broadly speaking, the hollowing-out of any flat material falls within the scope of paper cutting, and has actually existed in Chinese traditional paper cutting art. I like to grind scissors until they are extremely sharp and I use thin, soft and paper that is not too big; in this way, it is convenient for me to master and observe it, and I can express more details, so that the viewer can better experience the thorough and flexible artistic effect of paper cuts.
If you could work with any designer/artist, dead or alive, who would that be and why?
I have never thought about such an interesting question, because I am still at the study stage, and I will grow up prepared to consider cooperating with anyone. If I could go back to the past and make a choice, I think I would probably choose to work with a musician, such as Vivaldi, John Strauss or George Bizet. Interesting graphics come into my mind when I listen to music. Expressing melodies through paper cutting could be very interesting.
Can you share with us what you think are your best works?
Art is fun and emotional, and good work makes people pause and look. In my opinion, good work can either constitute breakthroughs in creativity, because art is continually seeking innovation in tradition, or it can simply be enjoyed, perpetrating contented, happy and optimistic feelings; it can also be deeply inspirational, reflecting the artist’s response to a question and encourage thought. Some works can cause people to be bound up in the experience, while others will have insights later on; both are part of the process of art appreciation. Works are more profound the more they enrich the viewer.
What piece of advice would you give to anyone interested in pursuing the field of paper design?
Art, especially paper cutting, is free and even borderless, and everyone can have a go. During my research, I asked the folk paper-cutting women (country women good at paper cutting) “how can you cut the paper so beautifully”, and they answered, “I cut it randomly,” “I can cut it just by looking” and “It will not be wrong no matter how you cut it.” Paper cutting tools and paper are easy to come by, the process is simple, and it is very easy to achieve an effect, so whether or not you have had an art training, you might as well pick up a pair of scissors and make a bold attempt. As you work with the scissors, what you may view as an unsatisfactory “mistake” may sometimes lead to a surprise, which is the happiness and satisfaction we get in from practicing this art.