Simple techniques are often the most effective, and paper cut-outs – perhaps the most basic of all – can achieve striking results. Lydia Fulton looks at the work of two exponents of this time-honoured craft
THE APPEARANCE of Rob Ryan’s and Lucy Williams’s work couldn’t be more contrasting, but the techniques used to make their cut-out worlds hold striking similarities.
Ryan’s sensitive paper-cuts, a collection of which are published next week in his first book, This Is For You, stem from studies and sketchbook pages. ‘The work is about drawing – it always has been. It’s working from notes really,’ says Ryan, whose distinctive design style has been commissioned for everything from book covers to ceramic cups and T-shirts. The theme of This Is For You switches between love and its opposite, loneliness. Some works contain words to convey his message, such as, ‘I am not alone, you are not alone’, or miniature letters addressed to ‘Dearest reader’; others are purely illustrative. ‘The work is emotionally suggestive of how I feel,’ he says. ‘I can’t explain it, so I draw it.’
Williams’s collages of buildings, currently on show at the Timothy Taylor Gallery in London, also use paper and are rooted in drawing. Williams studied painting at Glasgow School of Art, then continued on to a postgraduate course at the Royal Academy and has since been constructing adapted scenes of Modernist architecture, which have already filled two solo shows in New York.
‘The drawing for each work takes a few days, and I love that stage,’ she says. ‘The first draft is the most difficult, scaling up the image and creating the right perspective, then the final draft is distilling it [all] together’. Williams then uses this to make a template to work from. ‘I know at that stage if I can make it. If it doesn’t work as a drawing, it won’t work as a collage.’
The starting point is always a photograph, which she sources mostly from the Royal Institute of British Architects’ library. ‘I am like a magpie when I look for images. I collect anything that stimulates my desire to recreate it,’ she says. ‘I work from found images so I can get the right perspective, which is important for the accuracy of the final piece.’
These two artists take command of their materials, folding, colouring and cutting them in the way they want. ‘If I cut one piece wrong I have to start again as it can’t be mended,’ says Williams. These constraints can also assist the work. ‘If you have one piece of paper to work with it narrows down your options,’ explains Ryan, ‘which makes the message clearer.’
Ryan’s pieces are cut out from white paper and spray-painted afterwards. I can’t think about colour until the cutting is over,’ he says. ‘The works are very black-and-white in my head.’
Williams also chooses to work with white paper, which she paints to obtain a certain tone, creating her own set of colours that contrast with the other elements within her models – a tarmac road formed from material, a tapestry sky, perhaps a perspex swimming pool or a pathway made of tiny pebbles. These deserted landscapes challenge the way everyday scenes can be represented, and play cleverly with scale. Her show, Beneath a Woollen Sky, features The Study, her biggest work to date. ‘If it is a detailed work then it can’t be too small as you nhave to be able to cut it out,’ she says. ‘It’s about getting a balance.’
The size of Ryan’s cut-outs is decided by the scale to which he works. ‘It’s about finding a ratio between line and shape that works for you,’ he explains, ‘and constantly tweaking it.’
It would be easy to reduce these works to attractive images, but they are much more than that. They are subtle, contemplative and accurately engineered cut-out worlds, which are a treat to enter into.
Rob Ryan’s book This Is For You is published by Sceptre on 4 October. Original artwork from the book will be on show at the Rebecca Hossack Gallery, Conway Street, London W1 from 10 October
Lucy Williams’s exhibition Beneath a Woollen Sky is at the Timothy Taylor Gallery, Dering Street, London W1 until 6 October