5-year Anniversary – A Mini Retrospective

I began my full-time career as a cut paper artist five years ago (the clock started with my first solo exhibition as a represented gallery artist, although I started making cut paper in summer of 2005). Looking back at the works that I have created, there are several pieces that I consider to be door openers.

“Hanging Gown” is the first piece I used the chain link fence motif. Later, I expanded the idea to create series of works including the “Little Crimes,” “Falling Water,” “Memory Windows,” and “The Butterfly Gown.”

Hanging Gown

Hanging Gown, rice paper cutout, 7×14, 2006

“Atomic Jellyfish” is the first large cut paper with an elevated level of intricacy that I created in late 2007. Although taking as long as four months to complete, it allowed me to push the technical and conceptual limits of cut paper. “Atomic Jellyfish” inspired works that came soon after that dealt with both man-made and natural powers.

"Atomic Jellyfish"

Bovey Lee, Rice paper cutout, 2007

“Beach Ball Blast” is significant as it was the first piece that I focused on environmental issues.

Beach Ball Blast

“Beach Ball Blast,” rice paper cutout, 2009

“Falling Water I–V” is the first series that I created as an installation. Coming from a painting background, I was curious to create a painterly effect using cut paper.

Bovey Lee: Water Has A Memory, gallery shot, Gavlak Gallery, Palm Beach, Florida, USA. Thru May 13.

Bovey Lee: Water Has A Memory, gallery shot, Gavlak Gallery, Palm Beach, Florida, USA. Thru May 13.

“Sewing Highways” brought back the narrative-based expressions in my work. I created it after coming back from Beijing in 2010 after visiting the capital of China twenty years prior. The changes in Beijing’s landscape and people’s lives were staggering and overwhelming. It inspired me to create works on the effects of industrialization and urbanization.

Sewing Highways, cut rice paper on silk, 2011

Sewing Highways, cut rice paper on silk, 2011

“Lifting Clouds” is a recent work that explores how we use super machines and high technologies to claim ownership and alter/shape nature to our liking. I developed the concept to create many works in similar vein, such as “Trimming Feathers,” “Painting Corals,” and “Welding Branches.”

Bovey Lee, "Lifting Clouds", 2012

Bovey Lee, “Lifting Clouds”, 2012

“Vase I” modernizes traditional Chinese vases that always depict nature in purity and untouched by humanity. The fact is, there is literally no place on earth that human beings have not interrupted in some way.

Bovey Lee, "Vase I", 2012

Bovey Lee, “Vase I”, 2012


DesignBoom Feature New Work and Interview

This feature interview went online about an hour ago. DesignBoom is a Web publication based in Milan with over 4 millions of readers in 170 countries.

The interview also features several of my latest cut paper works. One of the new pieces is “Sewing Highways”. These new pieces have not been published before and will be exhibited in my upcoming solo in Hong Kong in December. Click on link to read full interview and see more images.


Sewing Highways, cut rice paper on silk, 2011 (click to enlarge)

Questions from Whitney Tembelis, Student, Institute of Art and Design, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA

Whitney Tembelis wrote:

I am a student at Milwaukee’s Institute of Art and Design and I am writing a paper on the art of cut paper. I have been a fan of your work for a while and am wondering if you could tell me any personal history, thoughts on the media, or any knowledge of the art’s history.

I wrote:

I came across Chinese paper cutting long time ago and knew that it was a kind of folk art. But I didn’t start making my own until 2005. In college, we learned to practice “scholarly” art like Chinese calligraphy and landscape painting. Folk art was not part of the academic curriculum.

My father is an art lover and amateur artist. An interior designer by training, he likes all kinds of art. When I went back to Hong Kong in 2005, he gave me his small paper cutting collection. I immediately wanted to know whether I had the chops to make them because they looked so intricate and difficult to create.

And the rest is history.

My thoughts on Chinese paper cutting at the time was that it had a great sense of innocence, reflecting farm lives with playfulness and motifs of nature, children, and folklore. Our lives are so different now that the innocence is lost. To me, staying true to the spirit of paper cutting is most important and that means to reflect the life, psyche, and culture of our time.

The slide show below is a traditional paper cutting that inspired me to create “Childhood Torture–Covering Mouth” in 2006.

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I have done a lot of research on the history and contemporary development of Chinese and Swiss paper cuttings. I went to both countries to visit galleries, museums, and artists to see what was done and what’s being created today.

Chinese paper cutting has been around for thousands of years but it couldn’t be earlier than the invention of paper. China invented paper during the Han dynasty, around 206 B.C.-A.D. 220.

Many paper cuttings were hand cut by village women in their homes. Grandmothers, mothers, and daughters gathered after a day of household chores to create cuttings to pass time, earn extra income, or use as decorations for special occasions. Paper cuttings were not supposed to last. People glued them directly on window panes and walls.

The women used sewing scissors that were not very small. But I have seen some very experienced cutting artists who made fairly intricate pieces with the sewing scissors.

Traditional Chinese paper cuttings have many different styles, largely based on regions where they are/were made. Often, the paper cuttings were created using red paper because the color red is considered very auspicious in Chinese culture. Over time, many more colors are used and some of those in my collection are hand painted with an array of vivid colors. There’s also a technique to glue the paper cutting on top of gold foil or other painted papers.

In addition to being an art form in its own right, paper cutting was also used to make pattern/design templates for embroidery, lanterns, and textiles.