Ancient tradition and contemporary innovation merge as one in the singular work of Hiromi Moneyhun. A native of Kyoto, Japan, Moneyhun is a self-taught artist who creates intricate two-dimensional, paper cut pieces. While Moneyhun acknowledges the influence of Edo period (16th-mid 19th century) Japanese woodblock prints (moku hanga), her vision and approach are highly personal and current, resulting in works that appear born from some parallel realm, touching on both the humorous and phantasmagoric. Children’s books featuring paper cuts and woodblock prints initially sparked her imagination. “I’ve been drawing since I was a child. A friend told me that they still had a portrait that I drew of them on the back of notebook from elementary school.” Speaking with Moneyhun in the Jacksonville Beach, Florida home that she shares with husband Roy and their nine-year-old daughter Nia, the now 36-year-old artist explains that she eventually began creating tattoo designs. “And I always draw in black.” A few of her pieces adorn the skin of friends in her homeland.
After honing her skills as an illustrator, in 2008 Moneyhun began focusing on paper cutting, a media that is as delicate as it is time-consuming. “I draw the image first and then carefully copy that image.” Moneyhun then layers the duplicate onto a giant sheet of black drawing paper and meticulously cuts out the finished design with a razor, a process that usually takes three weeks to complete. The final piece is then carefully mounted onto a slender piece of foam board so that it can be hung on the wall. In the past five years, Moneyhun estimates she has made 50 pieces. Moneyhun’s initial work focused primarily on animals, retro televisions, and in rendering pieces of her daughter that were inspired by Nia’s own inherent imagination. “I would create images of her with two heads because she would always say she had a ‘Strange Nia’,” she laughs, alluding to her child’s imaginary twin friend. “I would say my pieces are probably surreal.”
In March of this year, Moneyhun was featured along with Sharla Valeski and Bruce Musser in the group exhibit, Cut Paint Draw at Jacksonville’s Cork Arts District. In that show, she focused on imagery of insects like caterpillars and moths. Moneyhun’s current exhibition, UKIYO: The Floating World is being presented at The Kent Gallery, located on the campus of Florida State College at Jacksonville. “The Floating World is an unreal world; almost like a dream,” Moneyhun explains. The estimated ten large-scale pieces for the exhibit focus on portraits of Oirans, courtesans of 18th century Japan. “An Oiran was a geisha but at the highest level. Visually they were incredible.” In the living room of her home, Moneyhun has displayed a few of the finished works. The piece Oiran # 3 is indicative of Moneyhun’s ability to bridge traditional culture into the 21st century. Visually balanced in mirror-like symmetry, a female face is set in the centre of an ornate headdress that combines familiar objects like flowers with fractalised signifiers that evoke both the past and present.
The Kent Gallery is recognised for featuring well-known and emerging local artists. The programming for the venue is curated by fellow art professors Mark Creegan and Dustin Harewood, along with acclaimed installer Sid Allen. After being introduced to Moneyhun’s work through fellow artist-professor Clark Lunberry, the two curators visited the artist’s studio. “Hiromi pulled out some drawings on paper made with black ink. They were very impressive and intricate,” recalls Creegan. “I asked if she was planning to frame these and when she explained to me that these were just the first step to her cutting, my mind just exploded! Hiromi goes to levels beyond most artists in terms of process.”
While Moneyhun is pleased with this sudden attention placed on her work, she remains humble about the involved and arduous discipline in creating her art. “Even as I am making a work,” she laughs “I am always questioning why I am doing it!”
UKIYO: The Floating World runs until 22 October, The Kent Gallery of Florida State College of Jacksonville, 3939 Roosevelt Blvd., Jacksonville, Florida, USA. Hiromi Moneyhun’s work can also be seen at hiromipapercut.com.
Daniel A. Brown
Image: Hiromi Moneyhun cutlines and dimensions, OIRAN #3, courtesy Daniel A. Brown.