Freshly cut

WORDS Georgia Chennells

“I will always be called crazy for spending so many hours working on something that can break with one wrong move,” Durban artist Karla Nixon told Georgia Chennells.

Karla Nixon manages to make paper cutting look effortless.

A newly graduated student of Fine Arts from Durban University of Technology (DUT), Karla has spent the past two years experimenting with paper cutting. This intricate craft has been around since ancient times, first recorded in China and now occasionally popping up in contemporary art through artists such as Peter Callesen and Bovey Lee.

Karla’s creative foray into this technique began unexpectedly with coursework, an exploration of suburbia and a stencil.

“Most people use the stencil to create something else but I thought the stencil itself way more beautiful,” she explains. Her flair was fortuitously nurtured through exposure to street art through her boyfriend Dane Knudsen, and some encouraging correspondence with both Peter Callesen and Bovey Lee. The result was a most intriguing exhibition held recently at the DUT.

“The fragility of the suburban ideal” was the concept behind the exhibition, where associated notions of perfection, control, rationality and fear are expressed through imagery, pattern and spatial composition. Delicate assemblages are formed through layering, embossing or a pop-out technique (as used in children’s storybooks) and framed, hung or held between panels of glass, suspended from frames or simply attached in situ.

“The more the paper is cut into, the more fragile it becomes,” says Karla of her immersive process. For her the process is integral to the outcome of each piece, whose form is revealed as she cuts away.

Starting with the proverbial piece of white paper and removing, rather than adding, the details, which are all cut by hand and more complex than a doily, are astounding. Everyday images of doors, trees, furniture, houses, pylons and maps take miniature form in fine white sheets but a few millimetres thick.

There is a lot of facade play in Karla’s work, and viewing it is an immersive experience in itself. Look beyond the whimsical playgrounds and wallpaper patterns and you’ll notice the presence of things that seem out of place: barbed wire on wallpaper, armchairs in trees and fences that seem to wholly contain their mundane backdrops. The paper is white but the story it tells is a little bit darker.

So where to next for Karla and her artform? Being first and foremost a fine artist, she is in the process of enrolling to do her Masters at DUT this year. We can, however, look forward to another exhibition later in 2013. She is also toying with the idea of a public installation.

Needless to say, paper cutting in a public space has the potential to be spectacular and fleeting. Best we keep an eye on her then…