The First Cut

A collection of mesmerising paper cut outs; manipulated and sculpted at Manchester Art Gallery

By Lee Isherwood | 20 January 2013

Share this story

Spread across two floors of Manchester Art Gallery this month is a collection of mesmerising paper cut outs; manipulated and sculpted until the flimsy sheets of carbon have been transformed into pieces of fragile yet fascinating art.
A guest post by Alexandra Therese


Unconventional is what this exhibition is – art at its most intricate, such is the painstaking perfection each exhibiting artist has striven for and more than achieved. So clever are the shapes and patterns cast in brightly coloured hues of paper that if beady eyed staff weren’t stationed by the most enticing exhibits you’d satisfy your curiosity and reach out and touch them.



Household name (if you have a penchant for bird drawings) Rob Ryan verges on the macabre with his monochrome The Map Of My Entire Life in which the gothic simplicity of black card on white and an honest and humorous (if cynical) narrative provides a stark contrast to some of the other, brighter and more whimsical pieces on display. The vast upstairs room housing the exhibition could easily double as the set for a wonderful if bizarre children’s television programme circa 1980; a jungle of multi-coloured trees appearing to have sprouted from the ground in one corner, a carpet of flowers drawing gazes downwards in another.

It’s only paper, but paper as you’ve never seen it before.


Without spending a penny you can experience an art form refreshingly unpretentious yet mysteriously incomprehensible. And if you ask nicely an enthusiastic attendant may proudly turn the wheel of a real bicycle chain attached to and surrounding which are mounted dozens of paper bicycle spokes – each one, like a snowflake, subtly different to the rest. If you proceed to voice your sheer joy at such a creation said attendant will likely point out that the cut outs themselves are not the intentional end product; and the shadows made by their careful slits and perforations when a spotlight is cast upon them will intrigue you even more.

This technique of using shadows, evidence of which was dotted around the room, only went further in proving to me the limitless imagination of the craftspeople who had spent hour upon hour honing their skills to create the fantastical innovations before me. There were objects altered in ways so skilful and surprising it was a joy to get a brief glimpse inside the minds of their makers. A battered old copy of Wuthering Heights lay open exposing a small, fully formed and three-dimensional house and garden blossoming from the pages – each tree branch shaped with the precision a heart surgeon would be proud of by designer Su Blackwell.


That said, intense physical creativity isn’t for everyone. Admirers of Damien Hirst’s infamous departure from artistic normality, if such a concept exists in the art world, might perhaps find themselves underwhelmed by some of the smallest, most delicate creations. To these people I say: come with an open mind. Don’t stare at these works with the hope that a deep, profound and highly intellectual meaning will suddenly become apparent to you. Simply look, and look carefully. From a distance, yes. But up close too. In short, if you’ve ever wondered why origami and the like appeals to people; watch, learn and be amazed.
A guest post by Alexandra Therese

Manchester’s Finest for all the latest Manchester City Centre and Manchester Northern Quarter listings and news, focused on the best independent bars, restaurants, arts and businesses in Manchester:
Manchester Events, Manchester Bars, Manchester Restaurants, Manchester Exhibitions, Manchester Northern Quarter