MoCC Maps the Life and Work of Nikki McClure’s Papercut Path

Release date: 04/12/11

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Museum of Contemporary Craft announces Nikki McClure: Cutting Her Own Path, 1996-2011, the first museum survey of McClure’s unique and persuasive visual work, offering visitors a rarely seen look at her original papercut artwork alongside her popular and better-known calendars, books and other recent projects.

From her first papercut in 1996 to the present, Olympia, Washington-based Nikki McClure has spent fifteen years creating her compelling narratives by cutting into black paper with an X-Acto knife. Her delicate and sculptural “carved paintings” connect personal experience to collective memory through a celebration of current and traditional models of self-sufficiency, resourcefulness and participation in community. Her art is a seamless combination of craftsmanship and evocative graphic design.

Cutting Her Own Path will include a range of work created over McClure’s entire career, offering rarely seen original papercuts that serve as the foundation of her practice alongside printed materials to help visitors understand transitions between the one-of-a kind work and McClure’s other products. Original papercuts created for her book illustrations will also be on view, combined with a reading corner where visitors can sit, relax and enjoy looking at McClure’s publications.

She uses simple materials to tell simple stories: “I start each day by sweeping the floor of yesterday’s paper scraps: hands, berries, leaves. I feel connected to all my ancestors that have passed the years. We have all swept a floor clean. I put my broom aside and reach for my knife, ready for another day of cutting my story.”

Museum of Contemporary Craft director Jeffrey Thomas puts McClure’s storytelling in perspective, “As we celebrate the Museum’s 75th anniversary year, we have the opportunity not only to look back on the great women makers who have shaped this institution, but also to recognize influential living women artists such as Nikki McClure who are making history now.”

McClure’s politics are clear – take action by making your own life. Her subject is autobiographical; friends, family and places she visits regularly inhabit her papercuts. The activities detailed in her works span generations and recall boldly-colored silkscreen, lithograph and woodcut posters from the WPA (Works Project Administration) era of the late 1930s to 1940s in which particular models of active living were publicized during Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal. From digging dirt to canning, from picking blueberries to building a fort, from river swimming to sharing a cup of tea – the imagery is combined with simple words and phrases to create graphic messages of active living. In their homestead subject matter and self-reliant focus, they recall the generation of mid-Twentieth century women who created Victory Gardens and actively balanced working to live and living to work during difficult times.

The Pacific Northwest region has had a significant impact on popular culture, first altering the music industry, then introducing the Riot GRRRL movement and third-wave feminism.Nikki McClure has been part of that scene since the 1990s, when the indie music scene drew Olympia and the Pacific Northwest into the national limelight. Cutting Her Own Path will include selected album and CD covers she created for such bands as Sleater-Kinney, coupled with recordings of music to connect the integration of both sound and image in her art.

McClure describes her work process as the creation of an image through the removal of paper, “What is left is all connected,” she explains, “fragile yet strong, like the world I am depicting.”

McClure created her first papercut for a self-published book, Apple (1996), and produced her first hand-bound and Kinko’s printed calendar in 1998. Since then, the structure of working in a twelve-month series of images has guided most of the popular success of McClure’s artwork. McClure’s iconic style of papercut has resonated with a diverse audience and has been featured on snowboards, Patagonia t-shirts, record covers, magazine illustrations, greeting cards, movies, tote bags, Microsoft advertisements, non-profit logos, strangers’ tattoos and even the storm drains in Olympia, Washington, where she makes her home. In addition to an annual calendar print run of 17,000, her books have been published by Sasquatch Books, Chronicle Books, and she is the writer/illustrator of four children’s books published by Abrams Books, including The New York Times bestseller All in a Day (2009), on which she worked with Newberry Medal award-winning writer Cynthia Rylant.