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Quinn Rivenburgh creates beautiful, intricate paper art

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When people see Quinn Rivenburgh’s art, they often say, “This would drive me crazy!” The queer artist (who does not use gendered pronouns) finds the practice of paper cutting meditative; a symbolic form of whittling away what isn’t needed to reveal the image they want to create.

The process begins long before the first cut is made, however. Rivenburgh begins with an image, often of the human body, drawn in reverse on the back of a single sheet of paper. An X-Acto knife, with frequent blade changes, is used to make incisions on the paper atop a cutting board. Eventually, a work of art emerges.

“It’s this mental shift where you have to think in positive and negative space,” Rivenburgh says. “You have to plan ahead to make sure that everything is going to connect up, and that the pieces won’t fall apart.”

Anatomy texts and photographs of themselves in specific poses guide the images they draw. “A lot of it ends up being extrapolated from my own body,” says Rivenburgh, who occasionally relies on Photoshop to alter the images. “I don’t want all my work to necessarily look like me.”

The completed pieces can be as small as two inches square to as large as 18 feet by 12 feet, such as the work adorning the storefront windows as part of Hennepin Theatre Trust’s Made Here project. The art is at times stark and tender, such as a piece featuring one hand reaching out to receive another; or labyrinthine and unsettling, like a figure falling against a busy background, the word “proprioception” separated in four parts on one side of the paper. The black-and-white images command regard because of their humanity. As the artist says, “It is an act of resistance to pay attention to our bodies and the bodies of others.”

Rivenburgh grew up in the Pacific Northwest outside Seattle, and took one art class, printmaking, while a student at Macalester College. They weren’t introduced to paper cutting until they began working at In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre in 2011. The company was mounting a production by playwright Erik Ehn that chronicles personal histories of genocide around the world. Rivenburgh’s responsibility was to read through a series of 17 plays and find one image in each that captured the essence of the story.

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That experience inspired them to explore paper-cutting further, particularly around how violence impacts the physical body as well as the mental and emotional self.

“I really try to wrestle with complex ideas, and I think there’s something meaningful in being able to distill down complicated, nuanced ideas into a single black-and-white image,” Rivenburgh says. They are interested in illuminating how lives are affected by forces behind one’s control through the microcosm of the body, be it on the cellular level, in the bloodstream, through the internal organs, or as manifested in psychosomatic symptoms like stomachaches.

Rivenburgh — who is also a yoga teacher, dancer, and movement performer — is fascinated by the structure of the body, the ways limbs move through space, and the resilience and the hindrance of our inevitably imperfect human bodies. Hands are a recurring theme throughout their portfolio.

Currently working on a Master's degree in art therapy at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Rivenburgh hopes that art forms like theirs can help future counseling clients express themselves in a nonverbal way. “Art is very healing for me personally, and I have been fortunate enough to be able to find a sense of voice and a sense of empowerment through my own art practice,” they say. “My goal is to be able to enable that for other folks and facilitate their own self-actualization through art therapy.”

For now, they are preparing for their first solo gallery show, “Attention Is the Most Basic Form of Love,” opening at Showroom on Saturday. Rivenburgh was “floored” when approached by Showroom co-founder Jen Chilstrom, and hopes that the exhibition provides art lovers with “an opportunity for self-reflection of what it’s like to live in their own particular bodies — what sort of aches and pains that we bring but also what joys and pleasures that might bring.”

IF YOU GO:

Quinn Rivenburgh: “Attention Is the Most Basic Form of Love”

Showroom

5-8 p.m. Saturday, March 26