‘Urban Landscapes’: Exquisite Papercuts From Rosa Leff
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this post ran in 2022. We’re publishing this update in honor of our September 2023 exhibition, Architecture, Interiors, and Urban Landscapes, which includes work from Rosa Leff.
“I think creativity is just a way of seeing the world,” says paper artist Rosa Leff in a recent episode of People | Things. The video series, produced by EyelumWorks, follows artists into their studios to understand how creativity flourishes in different environments. “[Creativity is] having strange, really strong responses to things that other people don’t understand or don’t see or things that they wouldn’t see until you bring it to their attention,” Rosa clarifies.
For her part, the Baltimore-based artist sees the world as a playground of positive and negative space. Her exquisite cut-paper designs are intimate and autobiographical, based on original photographs of the artist’s current and former neighborhoods. Slicing through the photos to create her intricate cityscapes, Rosa completes each design with a single sheet of paper, her studio littered with scraps by the project’s end.
Growing up with an appreciation for the handmade—her father built reproduction antique furniture and her grandmother was a painter—Rosa approaches her practice with diligence and integrity. “[I] grew up seeing no distinction between fine art and craft,” she notes in her artist statement. “What mattered was that things were made by hand and done well.”
Early on, Rosa’s designs took inspiration from graphic novels. Later, amid an unsettling bout of homesickness, she cut photographs of her hometown of Philadelphia. She wasn’t interested in romanticizing Philly with guidebook-style scenes, though. “I want to celebrate the mundane, all the places we pass on the way to and from the things we think are important,” Rosa tells NOT REAL ART. “I cut all the tiny details (the cracks in the sidewalks, the stickers on the side of a parking meter, the tossed beer can) because that’s part of what makes a city feel like itself.” Her papercuts took on a life of their own, washed in familiarity and a distinct point of view, as she started the Urban Landscapes series she’s now known for.
Rosa’s designs highlight familiar city sights: neon “open” signs, parking warnings, advertisement-splattered windows. Details that plant you right on the bustling city streets Rosa once walked. “What I really love to do is these Urban Landscapes [because] that’s how I grew up and where I came from and the thing that matters to me,” she says. “I put my own voice in my papercuts by documenting my lifestyle.”
Scroll through to view Rosa’s work, then head to our September 2023 exhibition, Architecture, Interiors, and Urban Landscapes, to see her submission, “Before the Rush.”
“[I] grew up seeing no distinction between fine art and craft. What mattered was that things were made by hand and done well.” — Rosa Leff
All photos published with permission of the artist(s).
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