Painting and Paper Cutting

Joy Jacobson with her paper cutting designs and Kristoffer West Johnson’s paintings will share top billing in October at the Owatonna Arts Center.

Joy Jacobson

Jacobson’s paper cutting, which will remind some of the work of Kara Walker, has strains of “folk art,” and it’s “a fascinating form,” said Silvan Durben, the OAC’s creative director. “It’s beautifully done and very decorative.”

“Little stories are painted with each image,” he added. “These are strong silhouettes.”

The art form, known in German as “Scherenschnitte,” actually started in China between 150 and 500 A.D. before spreading first to Japan and then worldwide, said Jacobson, who resides in Aitkin. “It’s an interesting hobby, and everyone should try it.”

It’s certainly not only for women, as “some of the best cutters in the world are men,” Jacobson said. “You don’t have to spend a lot of money to make these, but it does take time and patience.”

Jacobson’s first introduction to paper cutting design came in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, roughly four decades ago, she said.

“I thought, ‘I can cut paper.,” she said.

She made trips to her local library for books on the subject and is completely self-taught, she added.

“I started doing it as a way to relax after work,” said Jacobson.

She appreciates how she can start a piece and then leave it for a time if she wishes, a luxury not afforded with many other art forms, she said. “With painting, you have to keep with it, but I can drop this and walk away.”

In addition, “I enjoy the look of the black and white,” she said. “It really stands out.”

Though she’s won numerous awards for her work and teaches it to others, this will be her first show. Roughly 50 pieces will be on display.

Of the pieces in the exhibit, she’s particularly impressed by the Geisha Girl she created, as well as an especially detailed picture featuring — among other touches — a small rat looking to feast on a cluster of grapes.

She uses scalpels — number 11, straight edge — from medical supply stores for her cutting, and she orders her silhouette paper from Florida, she said. The scalpels “have a very sharp point.”

Patience is paramount, as is precision, especially with the more elaborate pieces, she said. “You wouldn’t get too far if you didn’t have patience.”

Concerned the ancient art form is dying out, Jacobson isn’t shy about espousing its benefits.

“You’re doing something you like, and it’s good medicine,” she said. “How can you be bored or unhappy?”

Kristoffer West-Johnson

West Johnson demonstrated “artistic abilities and passion” while a student at Owatonna High School, and “I want to share his artistic journey with his home town,” Durben said. “His work is of our time layering of images (and) emotions, using both traditional methods, (like) drawing, and contemporary ones.”

“I come from an artistic family,” West Johnson said. “Both my parents were creative, (as were) my friends, so it was a natural path for me to follow.”

Though “I was drawing from the age of 2,” West Johnson actually didn’t develop his first “professional aspirations” until he reached college at Minnesota State University-Mankato in the late 1990s, he said. As he discovered more possibilities for art there, those “outside the box” avenues made art “even more exciting.”

The OAC exhibit will contain West Johnson’s “2D visual art,” but he dabbles in many artistic endeavors, from painting and drawing to music and animation, he said. “I find the 2D animation the most rewarding, because it’s fun to go back and look at later.”

No matter the end result, all his art stems from sketches, of which he always has at least 20 of at a given time, he said. “Drawing just pours out of me.”

He uses those sketches as a basis to create “a flowing stream” of art, then selects the finest pieces at the end of those creative bursts, he said. “It’s like panhandling, where you sift through and pick out the gold pieces.”

“Some of it is ‘happy accidents,’” he added. “It’s very organic, with an element of synchronicity.”

Those interested in seeing more examples of West Johnson’s art — and/or purchasing pieces — can visit his website,

Much of his art is “referential,” with the “direct application of one image to another,” he said. “I react to my situation and my environment emotionally.”

West Johnson has a studio he shares with another individual, as well as a digital and musical studio in his home used mostly for animation and centered on his computer, he said. West Johnson was also fortunate he “fell into” a job at the Walker Art Center—albeit “more administrative and less creative.”

Nevertheless, it allows him to be around art all the time, he said. “I live and breathe (art) these days.”

While some might burn out, he doesn’t need or want a break from art, he said. “I’ve kept at it.”

The West Johnson and Jacobson exhibition opens Oct. 8 and concludes Oc. 29. Gallery hours are 1-5 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday.

There will also be a reception October 8 from 1-5 p.m., which West-Johnson is looking forward to attending.

To be able to exhibit at his hometown arts center “is wonderful,” he said. “My family lives in town, they are very dear to me, and I love them.”