Kirie is the Japanese art of paper-cutting. Hiromi Moneyhun, who moved to Jacksonville in 2004 from her hometown of Kyoto, Japan, is a practitioner of this form of art. Hiromi creates through a process of addition by subtraction. She doesn't add layers to a paper or canvas using pens, markers, or paint. Instead, she cuts away from a sheet of paper using a blade. When finished, what remains of the paper is an incredibly detailed outline, often depicting the female form, insects, or msystical creatures.
Hiromi's paper of choice is black in color and her finished cutouts mimic thick inked lines. The pieces are mounted away from the wall when exhibited. As a result of being mounted this way, pieces cast shadows onto the wall, creating a sense of depth. When viewing her work, it's easy to lose yourself while marveling at both the actual cutout as well as the shadow produced.
Hiromi has no formal education in the arts. That doesn't mean that she hasn't long held an interest in them. It wasn't until after Hiromi relocated to the United States that she began exploring the world of paper-cuts. After Hiromi moved to Jacksonville her mother-in-law suffered a stroke, which resulted in Hiromi taking on the role of caregiver. With more time being spent at home, Hiromi rekindled her passion for creative processes as a means of investing in herself.
At first Hiromi's exploration into the world of Kirie was a hobby. Her interest was sparked by children's books that were illustrated using paper-cuts and woodblock prints. Making use of an X-ACTO knife, Hiromi created paper-cuts using whatever paper she found lying around the house. While her materials have remained the same, Hiromi's designs have become larger in their scale and more intricate in their detail.
In 2016 Hiromi has exhibited her work at the Beaches Museum & History Park (Jacksonville Beach, FL), the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens (Jacksonville, FL), the Moikami Museum and Japanese Gardens (Delray Beach, FL), and the Patricia and Phillip Forest Art Museum (Miami, FL). You can currently see her work on exhibit as part of "Lift: Contemporary Expressions of the African American Experience" at the Cummer until February 12, 2017. Hiromi's contributions to this exhibit include 12 "Black in White" portraits of African Americans who played an integral role in the Civil Rights movement.
10 Questions with Hiromi Moneyhun
What was the process by which you developed your artistic talent and articulated your unique creative style?
I've been drawing all my life. By my teen years I was in full swing. I did not go to art school or anything like that, but I was serious about my creative skills, I kept a portfolio of my work and all that.
As an older teen, I got into hair and make-up styling for local fashion shows in Kyoto, Japan. Kyoto is a major fashion center, as you may know. Then I dabbled in tattoo art. I tattooed a few of my friends, and provided images for other tattoos that I did not ink myself.
I moved to Jacksonville in 2004 and I began doing freehand embroidery on my father-in-law's old Singer single-needle machine. He had been doing it for about fifty-years and was an absolute master at it. He showed me how to do it. It was difficult, but I eventually got good at it.
I've always been involved in the creative process in some way. It's a compulsion. As for my "unique creative style," papercut art was always an influence. The medium itself dictates the style to some degree. For example, everything has to be connected, or else the papercut would fall apart. I realize that my papercuts are "maximalist" to some degree, but that's just me. I enjoy the micro details of the images I create.
You have cityed Edo Preiod Japanese woodblock prints as a major influence on your work. What initially attracted you to that era and medium of art?
Edo Period Japanese woodblock prints are normal for me. I'm Japanese, so they were my environment as I was growing up, much like Michaelangelo and Pablo Picasso and Andy Warhol are normal for Westerners. I was attracted partly because of exposure and partly because their beauty cannot be denied.
My husband and I saw some of the old woodblock prints a few years ago at the Cummer, and they were incredible. The men who made them were true masters.
Your career as an artist began when you started to explore paper-cutting while being a caregiver to your mother-in-law. Was there a definitive point when you transitioned from thinking about yourself as someone who makes art to thinking of yourself as an artist?
I don't know if I've ever "transitioned" from thinking of myself as someone who makes art to thinking of myself as an artist. What is an artist? Someone who makes art? I can say that I'm always struck when I see my work hanging in a museum or a gallery under proper lighting. I always think, "Wow, I made that."
And then there is the part when people show me admiration for my art. I guess it is at those moments that I think of myself as an artist. I don't walk around that way 24-7. Creating my art is extremely tedious, as you can probably guess by looking at it, and I certainly don't think "I'm an artist. I'm an artist. I'm an artist" while cutting paper. I just do it.
Seeing it hang in a beautiful space and having people tell me they like it makes me realize that I am, in fact, an artist. There was the first show a few years ago, of course, but then that feeling happens over and over again with each new show.
Through what channels did you first obtain feedback from others about your paper-cuts, and how did you feel about the feedback you received?
My first feedback (other than my husband and daughter) was from friends who would come over for social visits. I would pull my few pieces out from under the bed, and the feedback was good. Local musician and teacher Tracy Morris was one of the first. He was very encouraging. John and Joy King were also some of the first viewers, as were a few friends of my husband.
And then there was the Elaine Wheeler group. Elaine is the Gertrude Stein of Jacksonville. She is surrounded by artists of all types, not to mention non-artists from all walks of life who are interested in the arts. People flock to her like moths to a flame. One of those people was Nadine Turk, a local painter. It was Nadine who made that first phone call that resulted in my first show. Wayne Wood bought a piece of my art early on, as did Julie and Michael McKenny, who also own a piece of my work.
Everyone was very encouraging and supportive. These people know art, and I trusted them when they told me that my work had merit. I also realized that one thing that was working in my favor in Jacksonville is that papercutting is not so common here. When Wayne, Julie and Michael said that they hadn't seen this type of art, I realized that I'm doing something that is unique to Jacksonville and to the West in general. The Elaine Wheeler group was absolutely essential to what has happened to me since 2010.
Ben Thompson (of MOCA) has been an important source of feedback and positive reinforcement. He saw and encouraged my work from very early on. Ben sent Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art my way.
Dustin Harewood and Mark Creegan (of FSCJ Kent Campus) have also been huge. It was those guys that gave me a breakthrough show in their Kent Campus Gallery.
Another consistent and important supporter is someone who my husband and I know is one of Jacksonville's best unknown artists, Kenny Sanderford, who is also part of the Elaine Wheeler group. In fact, it was Kenny who got us in to the group to begin with. Kenny is an artist through and through, is well versed in art, and when he tells me that my work is unique and good, I believe him. His feedback has been, and will continue to be, invaluable. He's a good friend. He and my husband have known each other for close to forty years.
You have exhibited your work in a number of galleries and museums this year. How did these opportunities present themselves?
Yes, 2016 has been a busy year for me. All the museums you mentioned approached me, and of course I was flattered. It was fun showing at the Beaches Museum, since it is three blocks from our house. We rode our bikes to and from the opening.
The Cummer speaks for itself. What an institution! This is the second time I've been invited to show there. I'm thankful to them for that. Hope McMath was, of course, a huge part of that.
The Morikami in Delray was special for obvious reasons. It's my Japanese connection. Home! And it was the show at the Morikami that spawned the show at the Frost Museum in Miami. The people from the Frost travelled up to Delray to see my work and liked it. From that I received and invitation to hang my work in Miami. The Frost is on campus at Florida International University, which, coincidentally, is my husband's alma mater.
What have you learned about yourself as you’ve explored a career in the arts?
I'm not sure what I've learned about myself as I've gotten deeper into this. I've known for many years that I'm good with my hands, that I'm good at making stuff. One thing I've learned is that other people, too, think that my work is pretty good.
Because the material you work with is paper and the finished pieces are not framed in glass, what unique challenges are presented when exhibiting and preserving your work?
Mounting my work has always been an issue. My husband has always handled that aspect of it, and the mounting has evolved since that first show. We like to present work at shows 100% exposed, unframed, in the open because that's really the only way that a viewer can grasp its essence.
My art is a "thing," an object. We don't like to insert interference (like glass) between it and viewer. It's a thing. But it's also a depiction of other things---people, objects.
It can be picked up, unlike a drawing or painting, which cannot be removed from the paper or canvas. It's a flat sculpture. It's an optical illusion. It needs to be presented completely in the open.
There are several options if a collector wants to cover it for preservation purposes. Shadow boxes are a good option. That way, the piece can be mounted in relief from the back surface, and the work can be shown for what it is: cut paper. We've also sandwiched it between glass or acrylic, but then it appears to be oil-on-glass, which is a bit defeating.
Have you explored the idea of exterior exhibition or public art commissions?
I did a public art project for St. Augustine's Obelisk Art 450 last year. It was made of 16 gauge wire mounted to a replica of the original Spanish obelisk. It was fun but grueling. My hands were sore for weeks.
I'm now interested in doing a mural on buildings local to the beaches. Still discussing it. Obviously, my papercuts won't work outside. I would like to see my images cut out of stainless steel to mount outdoors, but that would require equipment that is more expensive than I can afford. If anyone knows someone with a plasma cutter that I can borrow, please let me know.
How do you mentally prepare yourself when you begin a new project? Do you have any patterns, routines, or rituals?
My projects begin as an image concept---portrait, building, insect. I poke around for a few weeks looking at images of whatever I'm interested in at that time. Then I begin sketching. If the sketches go well, I create an original drawing that becomes the foundation of a papercut. A series usually. Variations on a theme. No rituals, really. Unless lots of English tea with milk counts as ritual. And Japanese films that play while I cut.
What advice or words of encouragement would you give to someone who dabbles in creative processes but may not think it’s realistic to pursue a career in the arts or sell their works as a source of supplemental income?
There's art, and then there's the business of art. To create art out of a compulsion to do so is one thing. To make a living from it is something else. We're living in an age that speaks of art as a "career." There are workshops available relating to this topic, just as there are workshops related to building any career - like real estate seminars.
Is luck involved? Certainly, but you can make some of that luck, too. The work has to be good, but you also have to make it available.
Be diligent. Do the work. Make the art. If you love it, keep making it. Strive to be good at it. Then show it. Be dependable.
When you're given an opportunity, like a show, deliver the goods. Don't disappoint the gallery owners or the museum curators. Show up on time or ship the work as promised. That's all you can do. The rest is up to the universe.