The Butterfly Gown I, II, and III to Debut at ARTHK10

ARTHK10 reflects Hong Kong’s ‘Gateway’ status in presenting a leading showcase art fair for international contemporary art in Asia. The art fair takes place at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center from May 27-30, 2010.

Click on the image below to see more details:

The Butterfly Gown I, II, & III

The Butterfly Gown I, II, & III, rice paper cutouts on silk, 16x16" each, 2010

Questions from Lauren Parkin, Fine Art Student, Newcastle University, United Kingdom

Dear Bovey,

I just want to say how much I LOVE your work, you must get this all the time but I really do admire it. My name is Lauren and I’m a Fine Art student studying at Newcastle University in England. I am currently paper cutting myself and know how long each one takes to do! I wanted to ask, my blades keep breaking at the tip and I was wondering if I was doing something wrong when cutting? Also I am struggling to find the right paper thickness to get the best cuts, some paper is too thin and rips and card is way too thick, and generally painful to cut!! Do you have any tips you can share?

Thank you very much,



Thanks for your questions.

Do you use a self-healing cutting mat when you cut? The blades I use get dull but never break. I am thinking maybe you don’t have something soft to allow the blade to sink into. In China, I saw paper cutting artists used beeswax blocks instead of cutting mats. But the function is the same.

Finding the right paper is not easy. My experience is that a paper’s density makes it more or less prone to ripping, not necessarily its thinness or thickness. I would try to find a paper that is thin but dense. Rice paper is just that, although it can still rip if the paper is tissue thin and your design is intricate. Rice paper is made from mulberry tree barks. The long fibers of the tree barks make the paper less likely to tear. If you can get mulberry (or kozo in Japanese) paper where you live, try it and see if that works better. If you don’t have to use paper, I know artists who use Tyvek and really love it.

What the Monarch Remembers

This is a new miniature I just completed tonight. I very seldom fold the paper in half to cut but the symmetry of the monarch butterfly called for it. Here’s the template and finished cutout side by side.

Cutting miniature is, in fact, more difficult than large pieces because everything is so much smaller. In order to show detail that my works are known for, in a miniature it becomes more demanding and challenging.

The idea behind “What the Monarch Remembers” is from the monarch butterflies’ fall migration. They somehow miraculously find their way. So I imagine a monarch butterfly remembers what it saw during the long journey from the North to Mexico.

In this tiny piece, the monarch butterfly remembers seeing trees being cut down and a stormy ocean with birds circling above the clouds and lightning bolts.

The dimension of this paper cutout is determined by the wing span of the monarch butterfly – usually no greater than 4.75 inches.

What the Monarch Remembers

What the Monarch Remembers, template and rice paper cutout, 4.75x3.20", 2010

Deconstructing “Tsunami – Oblivious”

I created “Tsunami–Oblivious” in spring 2009 for The Hong Kong Contemporary Art Biennial, which opens May 21 thru August 1, 2010 at the Hong Kong Museum of Art. This paper cutout has not been exhibited anywhere before until now. I believe the timing for it to be seen is truly uncanny.

The composition of “Tsunami–Oblivious” is nearly identical to its prequel – “Tsunami–Enmeshed” but the attitude of its central figure – a young girl – is just the opposite.

As usual, I put together all the parts and narratives on the computer:

The foreground involves a sort of kids fight, surrounded by giant jellyfish being rushed to shore by the crashing waves. The mid-ground consists of two oil drilling platforms, collapsing, exploding, and catching on fire. The main figure is the girl on the couch who is unaware of what’s about to happen and laughing away. In the back, the threatening waves are in full throttle, while elephants balance on beach balls at the edge of a wall of water.

It took me two full months of hand cutting. The complexity of the piece makes it difficult to see and digest what’s going on but that is precisely the point. If it feels overwhelming, I consider the message delivered. In the light of the April 20 explosion at a rig 50 miles off Louisiana, this piece eerily reminds us our decision bears consequence.

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My Web site offers larger images in stills, where you can also find images of the prequel, “Tsunami-Enmeshed”: