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Bovey Lee: Paper Cut Precision

(Photo Credit: Bovey Lee)

By Simone C. Porter

Pittsburgh-based artist Bovey Lee has been painting, drawing and practicing calligraphy since the age of 10. Since 2005, she's been transforming blank sheets of rice paper into intricate two and three-dimensional works of precision.

Bovey took a few moments to chat with about her creative process and her thoughts on the notion of the starving artist. How would you describe your creative process?
Bovey Lee:My creative process is three-fold -- hand drawing, digital rendering, and hand cutting. Typically, I develop drawings before making a digital template on the computer. After completing the template, I print it out and use it as a positioning and visual guide. The template is largely photographic and I spend a lot of time translating continuous tones into patterns of solid and void. The final step is to spend long hours, hand cutting the image. Space, light, and silence is my ideal environment for working. Typically, I work in silence and get a lot done at night. If I listen to music, it is on the repeat setting to keep my emotion constant for that block of time.
Sewing Highways, Chinese rice paper on silk, hand cut (Photo Credit: Bovey Lee) Can you compare the art scene in Pittsburgh to the art scene in Hong Kong?
BL: Pittsburgh has several non-profit arts organizations that are doing good work and have programs, grants, and opportunities for local artists. Our world-class museums bring in both national and international artists. To attract and retain great artists in Pittsburgh, we can really expand in the area of the commercial gallery scene. Conventionally, that is the best system we have to help sustain and grow their careers. However, not much can happen without a healthy economy.

Hong Kong is the highest grossing region in Asia for high profile art auctions and fairs. The world's top art fair, Art Basel, recently acquired the ART HK fair, which is concrete recognition. Overall, Hong Kong has definitely more of a commercial gallery scene than when I was still living there nearly two decades ago. Back then it was unimaginable for any artist to work in a full-time capacity; everyone had a day job. Now it is possible.

Pushing Mountains, Chinese rice paper on silk, hand cut (Photo Credit: Bovey Lee) What is the most valuable lesson you've learned?
BL: The notion of the starving artist is beyond outdated and cliché. Once you throw that misconception out the window, it no longer shuts your brain down and anything is possible. What are your plans for the near future?
BL: I am working on a body of new cut paper works for two upcoming solo shows in Hong Kong (Grotto Fine Art) in early 2012 and San Francisco (Rena Bransten Gallery) in early 2013. The economic fiasco created by mega corporations, banks, and Wall Street inspire me to think about the work that we do and its ripple effect on not merely a single country or continent but the world. Because my own work is intrinsically physical and laborious, I want to redirect our focus onto the everyday working people who underpin societies and nations. Are there any special projects you're currently working on?
BL: I am planning on an artist book project. I am very excited about it because I always wanted to experiment with book arts and collaborate with a writer, in this case a poet. My collaborator and I are still coming up with ideas at the moment. I am also working on a commission for Hugo Boss and our collaboration entails a project I have not done before. It is a wonderful challenge and great way to expand my practice. If you hadn't been introduced to the arts at such an early age, what do you think you'd be doing now?
BL: I would love to be a chef because essentially cooking also deals with color, texture, composition, creativity, and presentation. What advice would you give to younger artists?
BL: Stay the course. Have the courage to say no to any opportunity that seems attractive at the time but you know will distract you from what you really want and love to do. Gather all your strength and confidence and show it in your work.

For more on Bovey Lee's work, visit

Interview by Simone C. Porter, Associate Producer, CBS Local

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