Monday, August 29, 2011

Interview With Lorraine Bubar

Lorraine Bubar Flight (detail) Papercut 40 x 24"

With paper and x-acto Lorraine Bubar paints intricate layers of  movement, pattern, and meaning.

Where are you from?  How long have you been an artist?

I was born in Los Angeles and graduated from UCLA.  I studied art and biology when I was an undergraduate, with the idea of becoming a medical illustrator.  Biological subject matter has always found a place in my work, including my love of insects and flowers.   I became interested in animation while I was at UCLA and continued studying animation at Yale, and then worked in the animation industry for many years.  My work often reflects that interest in movement and capturing a moment in time.  I have worked commercially animating and directing animated television commercials, movie titles, and special effects.  I have done magazine illustrations and illustrated a calendar for The Los Angeles County Museum of Art.  I taught animation at Santa Monica Community College, which evolved into a career of teaching drawing, painting, and printmaking.  I have been teaching studio arts for many years, working with elementary, middle, and upper school students and currently teaching at Windward School. It is important to continue to have one’s own personal voice and I have found that teaching art has clarified many art concepts and techniques for me and working with students has inspired me greatly.

For those of us who are not familiar with what you do, will you explain your medium?

My first major body of work consisted of narrative watercolor paintings.  They told stories through the juxtaposition of unusual objects, rendered with a lot of detail, movement, and delicate coloring. 

My work from the last several years consists of papercuts, layering many different colors of papers.  I became interested in papercutting because it is an art form that reflects my interest in many different cultures and the environment.  As a craft practiced across the world, including its origins from my own heritage, Eastern European Judaism, traditional papercuts include imagery and themes that interest me.  It is difficult to trace the origins of papercutting because the fragile designs and materials did not last over time, but the earliest papercuts can be traced back to China where papermaking began.  By the 17th century, papercutting spread throughout the world.  In Japan family emblems were cut from paper, Turkey had papercutting guilds, and regional styles developed in Holland, Germany, and Switzerland where people used scissors or knives to do their “paper carving.”  Jews throughout Europe created papercuts that illustrated their history and symbols from the Torah.  Jewish papercuts were made to hang on walls of synagogues and homes and served diverse purposes and folk customs.  They could indicate the direction of prayer, as an amulet to protect a child at birth, as calendars, to decorate for holidays, and to commemorate a death. Diverse immigrants brought the craft of papercutting to the United States.  These papercuts were not intended to have permanent value and were created by nonprofessionals and became a folk tradition.  The richness of the motifs, complexity, and range of themes created an artistic heritage that I wanted to connect with in my own artwork. There were often many layers, or levels of symbolic meaning in a single motif.  I love that I can image young and old and men and women planning and then cutting out their complex designs, the paper holding together as one piece when completed.  In my most recent pieces, I have been influenced by the fact that many papercut designs were symmetrical and based on a horizontal framework, including delicate foliage, flowers, animals, and birds.  I like the idea that papercutting is a “folk art” or “craft” that I am perpetuating and elevating to a “fine art.”  The word “craft” often refers to a respect for the materials themselves.  I strongly consider the variety of papers incorporated into each of my pieces.  “Craft” also refers to a respect for the processes and techniques identified with that specific craft.  In papercutting, it suggests that a simple tool such as a knife or scissors can be used to create very detailed and precisely created forms and patterns.  Using simple materials, I can include gentle curves, the feeling of movement, detail, and imagery.

Lorraine Bubar Tug of War Papercut 40 x 38"
 Can you share with us what is involved in your art making process—take us through the steps, if you will?

I am fascinated with how papercutting spread into so many different cultures.  It is an art form that requires only inexpensive and readily available materials and is primarily created for personal use.  I wanted to explore the idea of making this craft more contemporary and more painterly.  I am painting with paper and an x-acto knife.  I make a very complete drawing first and use that as my guide for the top layer of paper.  Once I have the negative space in the top layer cut out, using a very sharp x-acto knife, I experiment with a range of colors and papers to begin to get a color palette for the piece.  I layer the papers and cut through each layer, utilizing the color and texture of the papers, and improvising as I work.  I glue each layer of paper together as I complete the cutting.  As I work I decide how much detail I want to include in each layer and how much of each color I want to reveal.  Although I start with a detailed drawing, I feel very much like I am painting with the paper and I am reacting to the effect of each color as the piece progresses. 

In your artist statement you say that you are attracted to detail and delicacy.  I can see how this comes through in your work and I am wondering—what about these attributes initially attracts you?

I have always incorporated a lot of detail into my work.  When I was working with watercolors, I liked how a pattern covered the surface of an object; such as the scales of a fish covered its body or the texture of bark encompassed a tree.  In painting those objects, the three dimensional shapes got laid down, but then they were transformed by the details on the surface.  In papercutting, when I am creating those same patterns, such as the scales of a fish or the pattern in a tree, cutting out the small negative spaces leaves “lace,” such a delicate piece of paper that it continues to amaze me at how fragile the paper can be and still hang together as one piece of paper. 

How do you choose your subject matter?

Animals often have symbolic meaning in artwork, including the animals illustrated in papercuts.  I began to incorporate koi into both my watercolors and my papercuts.  Koi are energetic fish that churn up the water, which is what attracted me originally.  From observing koi in my own backyard pond, I tried to capture how the movement of the water breaks up the shape of the fish.  Their colors broke up into slivers of color that moved with the water.  I tried to capture that in the layering of paper. There is a Japanese legend about a koi swimming upstream against a strong river current and finally arriving at a waterfall.  Undeterred, the koi climbs the waterfall against the strong current and is transformed into a dragon when it reaches the top.  Swimming upstream against the current shows determination and courage.  Climbing to the top of the waterfall shows ambition, strength, and victory.  Finally, the koi transformed into a dragon symbolizes good fortune and prosperity. 

My current theme relates to the concept of layering, both in the layering of paper and the layering of meaning.  I am exploring the idea that there is a hierarchical layering in the nature.  All of these species are predators and interact, doing the “dance” of survival. 

How often do you start a new work?

I always have a piece of work going in my studio.  The papercut pieces that I am currently working on take me about a month to complete.  Recently I also started working on mixed media pieces to balance working in a very controlled way, labor intensive technique with a more spontaneous method.  I like changing my rhythm and my materials.

Who do you make art for?

I would like to say I make art for myself, but it also makes me very happy when I know that I have an audience.  While I am engaged in a piece I try to keep the “critic” quiet, and stay focused on “reacting” to what I am creating.  I work at pursuing my own personal vision.  If I am working in a way that is satisfying and stimulating to myself, I lose myself in the work and I can work endless hours and hardly notice that the time was gone by.  I hope that my process of creating, including the energy, effort, and enthusiasm I put into my work is evident to others.

What satisfies you the most about your work?

Currently I am pleased that I have developed a way of working that is unique and relates to my interests in different cultures, the natural environment, and in my cultural heritage.  

Lorraine Bubar

Lorraine Bubar's exhibtion at TAG begins September 6, 2011.

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