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Cutting Edge explores the fold between paper fine art and craft

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Paper is one of our first artistic mediums. When we're young, someone curls our hand around a crayon and we draw. We carve snowflakes from colorful construction paper, cut silhouettes of our profiles, and delicately fold Mother's Day cards. Paper is a form of language.

On Friday, Feb. 3, from 6-8 p.m., Boise State's Visual Arts Center will explore this language with Cutting Edge: Contemporary Paper. VAC Gallery Director Kirsten Furlong and art professor Janice Neri have curated a show featuring 10 emerging cut-paper artists who are bridging the gap between paper as craft and paper as fine art.

Furlong has been putting this show together for more than a year. It started when she noticed more artists using cut-paper as a medium, both in the resurgence of drawing and works on paper. She wanted an opportunity to explore the trend more in depth, and last year she got her wish.

"I actually got a research grant to pursue the project so I was actually able to travel," said Furlong, who visited New York City, Seattle and Olympia, Wash., with the grant. "Not only was I able to meet and look at the work of several of the artists, but I was also able to do a lot of research on some of the historic, cultural traditions of cut-paper."

Furlong found that cut-paper has not only existed for centuries but is also present in different forms all over the globe.

"There's a tradition in so many different cultures of cut-paper--ancient craft methods like Chinese and Japanese. There's a Jewish tradition ... a Polish tradition, there's a German tradition. ... The list goes on and on."

While many of the artists in this exhibit comment on some of these traditions in their work, only one is actively practicing an ancient cut-paper technique.

Kai Margarida-Ramirez de Arellano was born in Puerto Rico and raised in Albuquerque, N.M. She studied papel picado, a form of decorative cut-paper art originating in Mexico with master Catalina Delgado Trunk. Margarida-Ramirez de Arellano uses this ancient art form to address social issues and comment on contemporary relationships. The result is a maze of ornate, intricately framed pieces with feminist themes and laugh-out-loud captions like, "I've had bigger," underneath a purple peacock.

Two of the 10 artists featured in the show are from the Boise area. Amanda Hamilton works primarily as a video artist and painter. However, when she began preparing a body of work in 2009 exploring the meaning behind flowers and plants, she found paper was the most suitable medium.

"I wanted to create plants that would exist under bell jars as though in a winter garden," she said.

The result is a series of sculpted paper plants, whose individual leafs and petals are cut and attached by hand. Hamilton thinks of the collection as "historical wonder cabinets." With names like "winter savory," "cyclamen" and "rue," looking through the bell jars is like observing a preserved winter.

Amy Nack has had a love affair with paper for as long as she can remember. Nack worked for nearly 25 years in the paper industry before deciding to pursue a bachelor of fine arts degree in printmaking at Boise State.

"Although paper is likely the humblest of mediums, there is something so rich, tactile and intimate about working with something so familiar," said Nack. "I love that paper is something you can so easily stash away and stumble on even years later and be in awe of its potential."

Using water as her inspiration, Nack's installation includes floating discs of cut paper, each with a different series of perforations and textures. As a whole, they share the same tranquility as a still body of water. Nack's affinity for her medium comes through in the delicacy of her work.

Perhaps two of the biggest names in the exhibit are Beatrice Coron and Nikki McClure.

"They're probably the two most well-known artists in the show and neither of them come from a traditional fine-arts degree," said Furlong.

Coron studied art briefly in France, and then went on to hold a series of odd jobs, including truck driver, factory worker, cleaning lady, shepherdess and tour guide. In 1985 Coron moved to New York and reinvented herself as an artist. She began to "cut stories," as she puts it. Armed with a blade and sheets of Tyvek, a black protective wrap used in construction, Coron now creates dizzying paper cityscapes, and her work has even been purchased by the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

McClure is one of the better-known names in the homespun craft movement. With an array of self-published calendars, books, clothing, album covers and posters, she exemplifies DIY culture. McClure's artwork tells stories of home: hidden swimming holes, harvested potatoes, tangled spider webs and pregnant bellies. On opening night, the Visual Arts Center is pairing up with Bricolage to offer a pop-up shop of McClure items such as books, prints, illustrated journals and calendars.

Other cut-paper art on display in the show includes an entire handmade clover patch cut from Japanese paper by Rebecca Gilbert, Susan Knight's nest-like creations, a handmade book filled with tissue-thin pages by Francesca Lohmann, Wendy Kawabata's ghost-like figures defined by pin pricks and Hunter Stabler's layered webs mounted on plexiglass.

Furlong believes that being able to see cut-paper artwork in person, like she did during her research, will have a big effect on any audience.

"It's really hard to understand because of the way it's crafted," said Furlong. "It's intricate and delicate and hard to read in a photograph, so to be able to actually see it in person is amazing."

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