Paul Ahern, X-Acto Ninja
I’ve been a long-time fan of Paul Ahern’s “Cardboardistry” art — the pieces feel familiar yet striking and simple yet meticulous. I recently had a chance to catch up with the man with the mad knife skills, newly invigorated after his first show in Austin, Texas. –Kat
What is this thing you call Cardboardistry?
I discovered this method of working in summer 2003 in Brooklyn when I was the production designer for a music video for The Natural History. Our rule was that all sets and props had to be made from cardboard. I needed a pop art “painting” for the wall of this cardboard living room set, so I devised a method of creating a black and white image by removing the surface paper and revealing the corrugation beneath to act as the blacks in the image, and leaving behind the white. It turned out so well that I hung it up in my apartment after we were done, and a few different people asked to buy it.
Before I knew it, I had commissions for a series of huge wall pieces. People seem to be attracted to the mystery of how I create these pieces, but really it’s nothing more than steadfast determination, in the face of a rather mundane and repetitive process – scraping corrugated paper with an X-Acto knife.
What’s been surprising or interesting about this endeavor is my realization of what’s compelling about the art, which is the contrast between the immediacy of a photograph – from which I generally work – and the meticulousness of the cardboard-carving process. When you stand up close to one all the cuts and tears seem abstract, but from across the room the image comes into focus, and that dichotomy is what resonates for me in the most satisfying way.
Art aside, what’s on your mind? What’s on your nightstand?
Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine. An eye-opening page-turner, and absolutely the most important book I’ve read in years – I think everyone in the world should read it.
What do you think is the most urgent issue we face today?
Overpopulation in combination with tyrants who know the public has a short memory.
If you had a kid about to enter adulthood right now, what advice would you give him/her?
I don’t know if I’m qualified to dole out such advice, but if you really must know… what do you mean by adulthood anyhow – 12? 18? I guess I’d say try not to get too myopic or upset about the daily struggles in life, as things usually tend to work out okay. Also, the unexamined life is not worth living – stay away from TV, and think critically. Eat healthy and drink lots of water.
You have to create a time capsule to capture the essence of our world today. What five objects would you include?
1 A digital camera with a memory card full of pictures of people out at clubs
2 A bottle of Tap’dNY bottled water
3 This image:
4 A compact fluorescent light bulb
5 A copy of US Weekly