Jacky Cheng practices the unique and intricate art of paper cutting. She creates amazing textured pieces, many of which seem to imitate topographical maps. She is inspired by the landscapes of the Kimberleys, where she lives and works teaching art and creating her masterpieces. Collate Culture asked Jacky what lead her to become a paper cutting artist and she was kind enough to offer some insights into her life and her craft.
Jacky Cheng: How I discovered paper cutting?
Working alongside aboriginal students in remote communities in the Kimberley made me realised how similar we are in our family structure. The elders are the carriers of all the custom, history, and life-teachings and receive much respect from the younger generations and the wider community. This reminded me of how much influence my grandmother had on me, our family and the wider community who knew her wise ways.
As a kid, my grandmother and I used to fold joss-paper (burning of spirit paper for the after life – a traditional Chinese custom in paying respects to the after life) together and she would relay the do’s and don’ts in our traditional Chinese customs on everything from food to health to how should we address our second cousin’s aunty’s grandma!… apparently there is a title within that distant connection.
And for specific festivities and Chinese lunar calendar celebrations, she used to fold and cut snippets of red paper, then unfold them to reveal auspicious Chinese characters. I must have watched her cut papers a thousand times using her favourite pair of scissors. Her fingers would often turn red from the red paper dye. I used to sit with her and colour in my Disney books with my finest Faber Castell colour pencils! Never once did I ask her to teach me. I do have one regret. Not so much of the paper cutting skills …. but the interaction I would’ve gained from learning more about the art form. And not to mention, I regret not learning the dialect that is so rarely spoken these days.
Moving on to my adulthood. I was in uni and as an Architectural student, I never had enough money for fancy papers, mediums or tools to complete a particular assignment. I resorted to everyday paper, box boards, glue and my favourite pair of scalpel (which I still have up til today!) to tease my creativity in my assignments i.e. model making and drawings. I realised then it’s not about the materials, it is entirely about what I am trying to convey in my architectonic language. My lecturer’s did not care about what I use but how i used it.
Moving on to the next stage of adulthood. I’m constantly ‘doing and making’. My full-time job as a Visual Arts Lecturer in the Kimberleys requires me to constantly tune in to students’ realm and thought process encouraging and pushing their boundaries. A student once ask me – what do you do for your practice? I realised then I did not really have anything going but I do have an artistic practice….. just very quietly and not entirely extrovert about it. It was a real challenge for me then, as I knew I need to walk the talk. I’ve since been very active and made sure i give myself something back to the creative community as much as I give out to my students. It’s a learning process for me too!
I now understand better the intention my grandmother’s tedious structural ways of folding and cutting. It is about giving each sheet of paper its care and respect. It was such an intense awe watching her process but looking back, I owed the significant part of my practice to the process – the patience and pride in knowing every single cut is of purpose and intent.
Local artists work inspires me?
All Kimberley artists has a very significant way of introducing their artistic statement to the wider audience. The vast landscape has given everyone a notion to express from macro to micro scale. Ian McConnell is a painter, a visionary and a passionate artist. He has an interesting view in his approach towards his artwork. But one thing remains the same whenever we cross path and exchange a quick and in-depth conversation about our satirical art world…. it is the process and never about the end product. In the end of the day, what we created is a remnant of our journey.
Jackie has been involved in many solo and collaborative shows both in Australia, and internationally including the Agora Gallery in New York For more about Jacky, visit her at Jacky Cheng. You can also follow her on facebook and also check out her facebook page.