Interview with Relief Paper Cut Artist Jacky Cheng

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It has been a while since we have done an interview and it is with great pleasure that I share this interview as well as incredible works of Australian based relief paper cut artist Jacky Cheng. Her works are absolutely stunning and mesmerizing. Each layer, precisely cut and stacked upon each other, revealing beautifully unique spiraling mandalas and flower-like sculptures inspired from topography in nature.


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Tell us a little about your background – what path led you to what you’re doing now?
I was born in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in 1977. I am the second decedent of Malaysian, born Chinese. In 2003, I received my Bachelor of Architecture from the University of New South Wales, Sydney (first class honors!! – really wanted to make my dad proud and honor the family name!) Also it is Chinese custom and practice, needless to say, Dad was impressed. While I was a graduate architect in my earlier years, my love for ‘creating and making’ became smaller in scale. I went on to become an art educator/tutor early during my university years. My mentor Andrew Macklin noticed my engagement with my peers and students and gave me a job as a tutor. Working alongside students, industry professionals, architects, and designers, I was able to create with them. This in turn revealed the art processes that gave me the confidence and motivation to move my practice forward. But, I was only practicing my craft within my own confinement as I couldn’t reveal to my parents that I actually wanted to be an artist… whoops…

I have since followed my dreams in sharing my skills and knowledge as an educator. I am now a Visual Arts lecturer in Broome, Northwest of Western Australia – the most beautiful part of WA. I can proudly say that I have owned my craft and I am now practicing professionally as a paper artist.

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I love this particular style of layering in your work and I assume that it must require a lot of time and patience, how would you describe your process for these pieces, start to finish?
Thanks!! I love the layering too. It takes up to a few months to create one depending on the size. I often regard the style as a topographic technique, as they really do resemble the natural layers of our environment. I used to make lots and lots of architectural models and in one particular project, my site was majorly contoured and the site was the star of the show (not the building). I began crafting the contours and injecting the right curves and bends where they were meant, to highlight the importance of our natural environment and the building felt like it should be ‘lightly touching the earth’. Well, I got great reviews on the contour site.

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The idea of layering became more apparent when I started to draw with my penknife – yes… just cutting and layering one layer after another, no drawn plans, no guide, just the knife, paper and glue. The organic movement began. Surrendering to the moment began. Letting the thought process work simultaneously with the creative journey.

As for my process, sometimes it starts from a large sheet of paper layering inwards, sometimes from a very tiny piece of paper (most often an off cut piece from previous work) and work my way outwards, or even at other times, a combination of both, inwards and outwards depending on what the design needs – scale, proportion etc. Here is a video, about 3 mins long, to give you better insight.

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What have been some favorite recent projects/clients/collaborations and why?
My favorite piece that I’m working towards will be my first international exhibition in NYC. (YAY!) It has been reiterated to me that the NYC art scene is madly vibrant and super supportive of people’s creative journey. I thought ‘That’s where I want to be and show my work one day’ and that one day is fairly soon!! I often think as an artist, there should be avenues where you can contribute towards smaller shows i.e. craft shows, festivals etc to support the local and smaller arts organization. Hence, this year, I am also supporting a regional town festival – The York Festival, by exhibiting with a few paper artist from around Australia.

I will also be collaborating with another artist in January 2017 for a self curated exhibition. I feel it is important to stretch myself to different avenues and path i.e. gallery shows, self-curate shows to show my audience and my viewers that art is for everyone and that you really do not need to feel intimidated to walk into a gallery to view art. You should be able to see and experience it from every level. That is why I make a conscious effort to showcase my work through a wide array of venues and people.

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Is there anything from your childhood that inspired you to do what you do today?
Ahhhh… my Ah Ma (grandma). Girls always have the toughest jobs at home. When I was a kid, I was not allowed to play whenever I wanted to. No cycling, no running around, no lying around doing nothing! There is always something to do says grandma. In between meals, praying or any other cultural duties (temple visits etc), I would be sitting by my grandmother’s side folding joss paper. We would never fold one or 10 or 40, there were usually hundreds! The paper is a very light weight and thin like tissue paper and our fingers would be so tuned to the texture and delicacies of the paper to make the right curl or fold.

Grandma would usually leave me to do the joss paper folding and she would fold red pieces of paper into certain folds – snip, unfold and refold differently – snip and after a few folds and refolding, she reveals a Chinese character! Do I have any regret in life… yes, I regret not asking her to teach me how to do that! Apparently she was taught at a very young age and it is very intuitive for her. Those intricate experiences transposed my art into today’s view of making every single cut count. Every single slice has a purpose and every single layer is meant to be there. The sensitivity of acknowledging the importance of each cut and layer will eventually become of something. Most of the time I do not know how the artwork will turn out, it depends on every single cut.

As a kid, we often watched television with western influence and thought of the western culture to be cool and ‘in’ and the way forward. Now, I embrace who I am and what I am and most importantly where I come from. It is my duty to retain my cultural identity in every aspect and form I possibly can without compromising the vision for my artistic practice. Hence, I incorporate my grandma’s wisdom, storytelling in to my practice. I am reliving her journey.

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Are you involved in any upcoming shows or events? If so, where and when?
YES! The Agora Gallery in NYC. I will be fulfilling an art residency in Finland in March 2017 for a month working around the theme of Silence, Awareness, Existence. Here are the links to the gallery and of my works. Only 5 of my works will be showcased (I am sharing the space with quite a few artists). I hope to see you there!!

JACKY CHENG
Unbound Perspectives
August 26 – September 15, 2016
Reception: Thursday September 1, 2016 6-8 PM

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What’s the greatest invention ever made?
Linotype machines, hands down! Both my parents were in the journalism industry. I used to visit the newspaper factory and I often walked past this very, very long row of shelves with type metal/hot metal characters – yes!! There were Chinese characters and there were people with wooden boards collecting characters (instead of abc’s), others returning the characters to the shelf… I didn’t know much at the time, but I would walk past, grab a few and place them in different compartments or wherever I wanted, or take them home to play with them. I only just admitted to my mum some years back that that’s what I used to do, she laughed and said, she would often hear the staff complaining that they had run out of certain characters. I regret not keeping any of them. Without them (or rather without the progression of the linotype) I would not have had the comfort of typing here on my keyboard telling you the story.

Interview-with-Relief-Paper-Cut-Artist-Jacky-Cheng-Mandala

What’s the worst job you ever had?
Having to do a boy’s chore list. As a kid, my teachers and my friends insisted that my name should be spelled as Jackie or Jacqui, but it’s not spelled that way! It is spelled as Jacky (in my birth certificate). New teachers would put me on the roster as ’Jacky’ to do chores (and they are usually gender specific). So I would always end up listed to do the boys duties, i.e. take out trash or washing the trash bins. Girls, however, got to sweep the floor and then practice blanket stitching! hahah

What is your favorite object in your home?
My mothers antique wedding lamps. They are actually a pair of tiny bedside lamps. It is Chinese custom (for newly weds) to turn the lamps on for 3 days and 3 nights for prosperity reasons. I showed them to my husband and told him the significance and he said, ‘that thing isn’t gonna light the room up… it’s so tiny!!’ hahaha… no electrical cord, just kerosene and wicks.

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What is your dream creative project?
I would love to have the opportunity to work alongside Matt Shlian and Noriko Ambe one day in an art installation. Highly respect their work and I regard them as the pioneers of ‘paper manipulation’ changing forms and perspective with ingenuity. Absolutely inspiring.

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Is there anything else you would like to share with our viewers?
Thank you for taking the time to read about me and my work, to view more visit http://www.jackycheng.com.au/.

Thank you Jacky for taking the time to answer our questions and share your work with us. We look forward to more of your astounding work in the future and I will definitely be dropping by to see your work at the Agora Gallery, so stay tuned. To our viewers, be sure to post below with your thoughts and if you know of any artists that work in the realm of paper that you would like to be interviewed be sure to shoot us an e-mail.

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