By Linda Ricci.
Awe is the overwhelming feeling you experience when you first see Stephanie Beck’s highly intricate cut paper sculptures; with Mandala-like complexity, the precision (and detail) of her architecturally inspired works is mesmerizing.
At first glance it’s white – very white. She narrows her raw materials intentionally: paper (usually hotpress watercolor paper, sometimes card stock, and occasionally Japanese rice paper) with a self-described “smooth, mellow finish.”
Then she starts cutting, and the paper itself becomes a drawing.
Her path has been one that while rooted in tradition, has taken on wings of its own. Originally a traditional portrait painter, she felt constrained by a medium that, in her words, “felt historically male and euro-centric.” Challenging herself to really think about what art meant to herself personally, she returned to things that surrounded her in her home…personal things, feminine things.
Using lace as a starting point, she started drawing – and found that the simplicity of the black on white challenged her in unexpected ways; the white space became as important, if not more, than the lines…and unexpectedly, inspiration came from places she’d known, but didn’t think consciously impacted her.
Tell me about you!
I’m a paper artist who’s been fortunate enough to spend the last two years in residencies in various places around the globe – Istanbul, Fort Collins (Colorado), Brooklyn – and now New York City at the Center for Book Arts.
How did your style develop?
My background is in art history, drawing and painting; I was an oil painter up through grad school, doing traditional western European style portraits. Eventually I started questioning why I was painting, and why I was painting the figure, and I started having difficulty understanding what my motivations were. I felt like I was reconsidering problems people had been solving for thousands of years as painters, that didn’t feel really authentic to me.
So I decided to go back and really retreat to my roots, which were in ink drawing. At that point I’d worked at museums, largely with Asian, Islamic and East Indian artwork. For years I never thought it was affecting me as a “western” artist because I was doing these very traditional portrait paintings. But I was in love with the beauty of lines…so when I returned to drawing, I was attracted to that aesthetic. The key to it is that since it has a lot of white space, the placement/ composition of what you’re drawing become all important. And you have to say what you want to say with the minimal number of lines.
I also returned to thinking about what was important to me, and what I personally was surrounded by at home, and as a woman, I started drawing a lot of lace. And as I started drawing, it started looking like maps and topography to me. This morphed into creating different kinds of “stitches” for the different kinds of topography…forests, marshlands, etc.
And then I started creating whole worlds, cutting things out.
At that point, it was a very linear progression, from drawing to cutting and then considering the paper itself as a drawing. That evolved into cutting paper and layering, so the shadow became part of the statement. Recently, it’s becoming even more sculptural and architectural; I’m still creating spaces but with discreet units and uniting them together into a whole.
Talk about your inspirations.
The architecture surrounding me when I’m in various locations is so inspiring. In Istanbul I was totally taken by the domes: they’re so beautiful.
In Fort Collins (Colorado) it wasn’t so much the architecture of the city as the landscape: the grasslands are nothing like you’ve ever seen in the east. The cabins of the early settlers are also really interesting, as they are really very basic simple structures, sort of generic house shapes.
My Brooklyn residency (in Dumbo) brought me to the New York area, and the buildings in both Brooklyn and Manhattan never stop providing an interesting mix of shapes and styles.
Are there any other trends that are impacting you? Art – politics – ?
I’m definitely influenced by politics to the degree that I allow it. I’m increasingly interested in architecture as it relates to the body and the communication between architecture and the human. I find the current state of politics infuriating so that might be coming out a little bit…I’m starting to explore the concept of “controlling” in my latest work, since the current legislation restricting reproduction rights is in my opinion, invasive, which has parallels to “controlling access” – something architecture does as well. The visual reference is oblique though.
So what’s next?
I’m looking forward to staying in New York! After spending the last 2 years exploring various locations, it will be nice to build deeper roots in one artistic community.
All images courtesy of Stephanie Beck