Legato :: Joe Bagley
Legato :: In a manner that is smooth and connected
by Jenny Doh
When Joe Bagley first started papercutting, he was 10 years old. Being able to use an Xacto knife to cut even the most ordinary of papers was exciting for him at this young age. Over time, Joe grew an appreciation for artwork created from mundane objects. "I love art, but don't care to be political or have deep meaning, so taking a piece of paper and making someone gasp when they see it without adding anything to it is exciting for me," says Joe. Simply. Deeply.
JD :: You describe your process as one where you cut black paper that you then mount onto white illustration board. (and then you cut again, right?) How come you don't just cut the illustration board and perhaps paint that board black? Why is it important cut and then mount (and cut again)?
JB :: 99.99% of the cutwork occurs prior to mounting. The only exceptions are tiny pieces of paper I leave in to support the overall structure (if needed), which I remove only after the piece is stabilized through mounting.
JD :: Which is hardest? Cutting the black paper or cutting the mounted black paper?
JB :: I know this refers to the previous question about how I make the piece, but in regards to the backgrounds, I have only cut myself while cutting the backgrounds or packaging for shipping. I almost never even prick my fingers, but seem to be constantly slicing myself when cutting illustration board. I think I'm just not paying enough attention.
JD :: What's the toughest thing you've ever cut?
JB :: The toughest piece I have ever finished is Flour and Grain. There is a fairly simple (in design) piece I would have to say is overall the hardest. It is a suspension bridge from my home state of Maine. The piece only has about 50 holes in it, but the majority are about 30 cm inches long, 1mm wide and have 1mm pieces of paper between them. I have cut/finished this piece twice, but it has fallen apart or stretched and tore while mounting both times and was thrown away. This is the only piece to defeat me, and hopefully one day I'll win. When I do, I will keep it as a trophy.
JD :: Tell me about your studio. Is it minimal? Stacks of black paper, stacks of illustration board, and cutting blades? Or do you have other things that we can't imagine?
JB :: Yes, that pretty much describes it. I have four tables, one of which doubles as paper and illustration board storage and standing cutting area. Two tables are for storage and computers, and the third is for cutting. I have a bunch of art hanging in there as well, but it isn't the most beautiful space. What I DO have, however, is a view of Downtown Boston, the Bay, and trees. That is my inspiration.
JD :: Is it the exacto knife that you use? How many do you go through in a week?
JB :: I use a vintage Xacto 3051 Professional Swivel Knife from the 1980s. Unfortunately they replaced it with a cheep aluminum swivel knife. I go through about 10-20 blades a week. It's my biggest expense.
JD :: So would it be correct to think that you grew up in a highly creative home, where you were encouraged in the arts and crafts as a young person?
JB :: Definitely! My mom ran a daycare out of our home my entire life, so there was a huge supply closet full of crafts and I was allowed to play with them whenever I wanted.
JD :: You say that you are interested in trying to steer a folk art origin that your work may be associated with, toward a more modern environment. How come? How come it's important to you that your work emerges from a folk/craft/antique audience to a new and modern one?
JB :: I don't think it is important for the artform overall, and I definitely encourage others to continue the many folk art styles of papercutting from around the world. I don't come from a culture that has traditional papercutting in its history (Germany, Poland, Mexico, China, Japan, Indonesia) so for me to cut traditional designs would feel inauthentic. For me, I look at papercutting as an interesting medium to depict designs and objects I have in my mind. It was only after I had really made it a profession that I even started to look into the origins of the art. Having no background in the old styles of papercutting, I feel free to do whatever pleases me, and in this case I would like to show people new and exciting techniques and designs in this medium while also teaching about the deep roots of the art around the world.
JD :: Tell me about where you grew up and where you currently live. What's it like being where you are currently?
JB :: I grew up in the woods of Maine surrounded by lakes and rivers. Currently, I'm living in Boston but my wife and I regularly return to Maine for weekend visits with my family. Boston is a great city and still has some of the feelings of Maine, just larger and more developed. I still have rural areas, ocean, rocks, and hills, so I'm happy. Plus, I love art and architecture, and Boston if full of great museums and historic and modern architecture.
JD :: When you're not in your studio, tell me about how you spend your time.
JB :: I'm a trained archaeologist, and have my degree in it. I participate in several digs a year and really enjoy being outdoors and getting dirty. This fall I will start a Masters Program in archaeology in Boston.
JD :: Did you always know you'd pursue art?
JB :: I've always wanted to, but it was only after getting laid off from an archaeology project that I took a hobby and went full time with it. I apparently have more entrepreneural ideas than I expected, because the business side of the art world has worked well so far. It's a TON of work though!
JD :: If you could pass along two truths to future generations, what would they be?
JB :: #1: When planning a task, when you are absolutely certain you know how long it will take, double it. #2: Everything is better with a friend (even better when the best friend is a spouse)
JD :: When you have a deadline and there's no inspiration, do you stay seated and work or do you go out to find some inspiration?
JB :: I stay in the studio, but just work on something entirely different. It helps to have multiple things going at once so you always have something else to do. When I really don't want to do something, I try to tuck it into small periods of time (like while waiting for coffee to finish brewing or in the last hour of the day before my wife comes home). It feels like a challenge and the time crunch makes me get it done faster with some sense of accomplishment.
JD :: There are several pieces that you have made that are map-inspired. Tell me about your interest in maps.
JB :: I have always loved maps, in first grade my teacher noticed my interest and hung a map of Maine in the classroom for me. I would stare at it during free time. I was a weird kid. I love they way they graphically show a story: Mountain building here, erosion here, old river oxbows there, eskers and moraines from the glacier, jagged coastlines from rocky outcrops. All of it is so interesting for me, and I love showing this in my work.
JD :: What's the best city you've ever visited?
JB :: I saved up my work paychecks for an entire year my senior year of highschool and paid my own way for a school trip to Italy. I fell in love with Rome because of the archaeology, history, and architecture. Would love to go back, but there are a ton more places we need to visit first.
JD :: What's the city that you'd like to visit in the future?
JB :: I really want to go to Copenhagen.
JD :: What's your all-time favorite movie?
JB :: Forest Gump
JD :: What's the latest movie you've seen?
JB :: Currently watching a documentary on French Pastry Chefs called "Kings of Pastry". I can relate to things going very bad at the very last second.
JD :: Think fast and give me a word (or two) that comes to mind when I say:
Frank Lloyd Wright
Jen (my wife)
JD :: Finish this sentence: "The thing that most people may not realize about me is that ..."
JB :: ... I'm an archaeologist too.
Many thanks to Joe Bagley for providing this interview and a fascinating glimpse into his world, and also providing all images shown here. To learn more about his art and to view originals available for sale, visit http://www.papercutsbyjoe.com/.