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Lisa Nilsson: Spell-binding Art in Paper

Lisa Nilsson: Spell-binding Art in Paper


As a kid, my favorite thing to do was to make
things. I went to the Rhode Island School of Design,
and I studied Illustration. When I finished at RISD, I was recruited by
a greeting card company in Ohio, and I made greeting cards for nice people for many years,
but always felt that I wanted to grow beyond that. I spent about a year making editorial
illustrations for magazines. The deadlines were horrible, and I’ve always
been drawn to very slow, time-consuming art-making techniques. I started making these box-like assemblages
that allowed me to shift techniques and mediums and materials about every day or so. And I encountered an antique piece of quilling
when I was out junking one day. Quilling is a centuries old craft technique
where one takes strips of paper – I use quarter inch-wide strips of paper. And the paper’s
coiled up, and you can pinch the coils into different shapes. Around that time, a friend knew I was interested
in science and medical imagery, and she sent me a picture of a cross-section of a human
cadaver that I thought was one of the most beautiful things I’d ever seen. The way that the organs in the body are all
squished and contained in a defined space – I really saw a connection to the paper. And it just pulled me off into this entirely
other direction. (Music: “City of Shadows” by Scott Wheeler) I was making sculpture, I wasn’t making medical
illustration. But I wanted my level of accuracy to be such that I didn’t annoy people who
knew what they were looking at. And to my delight, they were delighted. Surgeons,
dissectors, anatomists. Through a series of sort of weird connections,
people who online pay attention to this paper technique that I use, the work went viral.
And I got a lot of really nice attention, and just, a lot of doors opened for me. One of which was a gallery I had been interested
in for 10 years. And he’s sold my first body of work. The fellowship was great because I had been
in the middle of the biggest, most ambitious piece I had made, to date. It took about 6
months to make it. So that was 6 months where the money I had made from my previous body
of work was dwindling. So there was this nice infusion, like, oh,
this long slow piece… the gods are smiling on it. People always say to me, “You must have a
lot of patience.” To me, patience is about pain and tedium, and my work gives me such
pleasure. I mean it’s slow. But I like slow things.
It’s like building a puzzle, where once you’re into it, you don’t want to walk away from
it. It doesn’t really require patience, because you’re so engaged. Pretty much everything else in life, for me,
requires patience. Getting dressed in the morning requires patience! But watching my
work build slowly does not.

Comments (1)

  1. beautiful art work

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