Interview with artist Sharon Cutts

SharonCutts_Man_in_KimonoSharon Cutts, “Man in a Kimono” oil and acrylic on canvas on bent wood, 2014.


Sharon CuttsWALL PEOPLE  is on view at the AS220 Project Space through May 30th.

Interviewed by AS220 Gallery Intern Nenetzin Rodriguez


  1. What part of exercising new challenges became part of the design process versus the technical challenges in your creation?

I like problem solving whether the challenges are aesthetic or technical.  For example, say something presents a design problem, such as a piece looks unbalanced…I think about it during the night, I think about it as I drive in my car–always visualizing what my next step might be.  Those aesthetic/design challenges are really fun.  Honestly, what a pleasure to just think about a piece I am working on!

Technical challenges are also fun, but maybe not as much.  A lot of my painting is sculptural, and sometimes I do just plain sculpture, mostly wood but at times there are metal components.  With that work, technical challenges are present right from the beginning as I figure out how to cut the wood (I own six or seven power saws, all with different capabilities) or weld, solder or join.  My skills are far from those of a cabinet maker or metal smith and sometimes I need to think hard about how to work around my limitations.  That’s fun too.

  1. What aspects of “puppets” are balanced through the displayed canvases?

Puppets fascinate me.  There is something about their changeling world that brings out the macabre.  Human-like, animated and three-dimensional, puppets provide a dark channel into  our thoughts.  But it is the puppet-making aspect that draws me artistically.  I want to make art that chops up puppets while drawing on their dark associations so that the finished piece is outside the more literal puppet tradition.  The pieces in my show Wall People have a three-dimensionality that breaks away from the flat wall and strives towards the viewer: reaching out or peering down.  The curved wood shapes and animates the figures, referencing the long tradition of puppetry.

Looking at one example, the figure HOODED — it is pierced in the back by a square metal support rod and juts out from the wall.  This piece is quite dark to me.  Besides the impalement, the white petals form a hood that covers a woman’s face, head and shoulders, stopping right where the nipples would be.  This covering of a woman’s head and face while accentuating the sexual shape of her body is creepy and underlies the the attractive, decorated surface.  Contrasts like that appeal to me.  Other figures in the show have back-stories, sometimes hinted at by the names of the figure.

Another puppet feature of the Wall People is the separate parts, some of which move.  If I continue with this series the movement is sure to become more pronounced and the pieces will leave the wall, making them more demonstrably puppets.   The next pieces would be hung, with all sides finished.  As a practical consideration, the Wall People are difficult to store or ship.  Referring back to the first question, these are technical challenges of another sort.

  1. How does curved wood motivate you to create a canvas mosaic?

Curving the wood (and then stabilizing it)  helps to define the surface.  With the mosaics I find expression for the energy I want to put into the figures.  The flowing and active surface design help to animate the work.  Generally speaking, all my work is very time consuming, and I think of it as a process for instilling my energy into my art.

  1. How does the “Man in Kimono” expression reach out to the viewer in relation to the other pieces?

Three people have told me that MAN IN KIMONO reminds them of the artist Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849) who’s work is on display at Boston’s MFA now.  I have not seen the show but I plan to do so soon.  The expression in the profile of my piece is like something ancient, something ghostly, and I think of the face as wizened and old.  And if you notice the small blue-ish hand coming out of the left sleeve, the color is rather ghostly.  By the way, the thing dangling from the hand is an amulet that is being dropped into a bag-like pocket made of red petals.  There are Japanese names for both of these, which I leave to the reader to look up.

The inspiration for this piece was an antique kimono I saw on display that’s part of the permanent RISD collection.  As soon as I saw it I knew I would do a painting referencing a kimono.  In my piece, the obi or sash around the waist is very flowing and complex white curves.  The painting actually looks nothing like the kimono I saw, which was decorated by fairly accurately rendered chrysanthemums.

WALL PEOPLE is on view through Saturday May 30th. Gallery Hours are Monday-Friday 1-6 p.m. and Saturdays 12-5 p.m. and by appointment.  The AS220 Project Space is located at 93 Mathewson St. Providence, RI.