Stuart Copans: Mr. Cut-It-Out!
After 25 years of practicing his cutting technique, there are meditative moments for Stuart Copans when it seems that his scissors move in time with his breathing, cutting a line in paper as a devoted draftsman might draw with his reed pen or a sculptor might lithely carve with a well-sharpened chisel. The line, in any case, reflects the state of mind of its creator, and on some level this is transferred to the viewer.
During April, some of Copans' black-on-white silhouette images were included in the Windham Art Gallery's group show "Invitation to Spring." The small, symmetrical pieces were cut out of black silhouette paper and inspired by the odd and suggestive shapes of that exotic blossom, the orchid.
Copans was originally attracted to paper cutting while watching his son, as a toddler, relishing the act of cutting with scissors. In some of the child's cuttings he began to see intriguing shapes. He had tried etching and "played with watercolor," but now Copans picked up the scissors and began to cut.
Further inspiration was gained by an employment opportunity on an oceanliner, which stopped in exotic ports all over the globe. He was able to study the traditional arts before seeing them in person in countries like China, India, Venezuela, and Brazil. The symmetricality he found in tribal and religious expressions of different cultures affected his own shape-making thought patterns. The cutout shapes bear a resemblance to Rorschach tests. This is interesting because the artist is also a practicing psychiatrist. It seems that Rorschach tests originated in Germany as an intellectual parlor game and were later recognized for their analytical potential. (No claims here -- insanity is in the eye of the beholder!) This sort of "mirror of the psyche" is one of the roles art can play.
Copans is not working from some flower book here. He has visited orchid grove country in Florida, north of the Everglades. He speaks of inspiration from the symmetrical extravagance of organic forms. It's nice to know that we are looking at an obsessive researcher. He is a member of the Pennsylvania Paper Cutters Guild, which boasts 500 members from all over the world. They exhibit together, and his tales of 16-fold Swiss symmetry are quite compelling. (His most notable one-person show to date was at the gallery of the University of Massachusetts.)
Eleven of Copans' pieces were displayed in the Windham Art Gallery's window. Of these, three in particular seemed to point to new horizons. They were cut from printed pages and lightly painted with watercolors. Certain words appearing between the cuts gave a poetic nuance or a sort of "plot" to individual pieces, while the delicate colors and patterns introduced with the brush seemed appropriate. Perhaps texture and scale will play a larger role in future work.
It may be the underlying effect of all his influences or an aesthetic
which is just his character, but Stuart Copans has developed a mode of
visual expression which is both personal and culturally universal. One
feels the spirit of Pennsylvania Dutch hex signs, of old country
weathervanes, of classic lace and quilting designs, and also of Balinesian
shadow puppets, Panamanian woven cuttings and old European crests. A form
consisting simply of its outer line and inner space is explored
extensively and with globalistic cultural inspiration. At the same time,
it looks as though it might be a traditional American art form ready to
sit happily on a traditional American wall.
Copyright 2003, Gallery Walk, Brattleboro, Vermont