Kako Ueda


"Faces," 34 X 36 in., hand-cut black archival paper, 2013, courtesy of the artist and George Adams Gallery, NY.

Liz Insogna: "Faces," one of your cut paper works, is impressed upon my mind the way an initiatory dream image may brazenly etch itself along the edges of the unconscious to make itself known and remembered -- as if it always existed. Faces seems to use a range of symbolic values gathered from the past to the present as well as from the insect world to outer spaces. Could you talk about your relationship to the images, symbols and impressions in your work, and in this work in particular?

Kako Ueda: I have always been interested in the tension between nature (organic beings) and culture (man-made), the ever shifting line between them. My keen interest in organic beings (humans, animals, insects, plants) stems from the fact that they come into this world, go through stages of transformation (growth and decay), then their lives come to the ultimate end. As technology/science/medicine progresses; it is harder to say that there even exists a line between nature and culture. Knowing how much our activities as human beings affect every corner of the earth on many levels, the question would be: Can we find a piece of nature which is "totally natural" in this world anymore?

There are multiple thoughts and ideas going though my mind that prompted making the piece "Faces":

1. Face is the first thing we normally look at when we meet another person (or animal), and it is what we normally associate with someone's identify, his/her personality, mood, feeling, etc. At the same time, though, we say something like: "Do not judge a book by its cover," to remind ourselves that the outside does not always reflect what is inside. This ambivalence is interesting to me, and the face represents the focal point of this ambivalence.

2. We now know that there can be many sides to our personalities, and we tap into these when we want to and need to, in order to function smoothly in our everyday life. We change depending on a situation, everyday, as we grow older, but somehow retain the sense of "me-ness" all through our lives, which is a wonder to me.

3. Our modern culture is obsessed with appearance (face, body shape, how one dresses), which continuously manifests itself in the movies, TV, internet, Instagram (taking a "selfie"), billboards, magazines, that surround us. An enormous amount of time and money is poured into this seemingly endless physical self-reflection.

The premise of this work was to have multiple compounding faces (of people, animals, etc.) Some faces are hidden, not so easily seen at first but with careful inspection and time, they reveal themselves to the viewer. I got inspirations from modern/contemporary images as well as African masks, Tibetan paintings, Japanese buddhist sculptures, so on and so forth.

LI: Could you a little about how and what it means to cut paper to create imagery?

KU: Because of this way (cutting paper) of making an imagery, I have noticed that my work is perceived as art, craft and/or design, depending on a viewer or on a context. So I swim in these three worlds and, personally, I like it a lot. It suits me -- who is a cultural hybrid myself [immigrated to the States at the age of 15, lived in Spain for a year].

Creating an image by cutting out (eliminating some parts of the chosen material) paper is not unlike making a sculpture such as carving wood or chiseling away marble. I always draw first on a piece of paper before cutting so my process involves drawing first then sculpting/cutting. By painting cut paper piece or adding painted images with the cutting paper, I also satisfy my urge to paint. In the end, I often end up incorporating three processes in one piece (except some pieces without paint, such as "Faces").

The largest piece in the show, "Reciprocal Pain," is a good example of having these three components within one work.


"Reciprocal Pain," 92 X 55 in., hand-cut paper with acrylic and watercolor, 2009, courtesy of the artist and George Adams Gallery, NY.

LI: I would imagine that you must think ahead of time and consider the future of the work quite often, considering all elements. How do you work with the unplanned circumstances that are a reality of cutting into paper? Do "mistakes" work with the imagery, against it or both?

KU: Since I draw extensively before cutting, I rarely make "mistakes," so to speak. What is interesting is when I make a decision while cutting to change the design right there. This does happen time to time, and in this case, I cut against my initial drawing. Since my imagery is all about story telling, association and metaphors, it would not matter too much if I make a "mistake" or change some parts of a piece along the way. It is all about the "big picture": what all the components together say, or giving a viewer a certain feeling. That is one of the cool things about making art; that artist could discover something new and different from a move he/she has made (while in the process), which was not intended in a first place.


"Faces" (detail), 34 X 36 in., hand-cut black archival paper, 2013, courtesy of the artist and George Adams Gallery, NY.

Kako Ueda was born in Tokyo and moved to the Unites States at the age of 15. She has been living and making art in Brooklyn since the mid 90s.

Her show, Mutaphiliac, is on until Saturday Feb. 22 at George Adams Gallery in Chelsea.


To learn more about her work:

She is also in a group show that opened in Feb. 1 in San Francisco, and is up through March 31 2014.

Liz Insogna is a painter in Brooklyn, N.Y.C.