Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart*

*Wordsworth, in a letter of 29th April, 1812 to his wife

We have reached the twelfth day after Christmas, and I discover my final treat of the season at the William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow. Morris lived here with his eight brothers and sisters and their widowed mother, from the age of fourteen until he was twenty two.

I have come to see fine artist Rob Ryan’s solo exhibition, which is due to continue for another three weeks (as is another exhibition here, “The Enchanted Garden”). It features highly patterned original paper cuts and limited edition silkscreen prints, created in response to the Gallery’s collection.

As I ascend the stairs, the welcoming young woman at the front desk points out the ledge of a sash window, where Morris and Burne-Jones sat together to write poetry.

A caveat: Ryan has said, in 2015, that “…everybody knows the paper cut work….but in my head that’s not what I do…I wouldn’t see paper cutting as the beginning and end of my work, and I wouldn’t want other people to see it that way either.”.

In the artist’s words, “Patterns and words and pictures, pictures and words and patterns, I don’t want them to live apart and segregated.”

The blogger “gentle author” wrote in 2010: “Rob Ryan might appear as a Romantic nineteenth Century figure – like “The Tailor of Gloucester” – if it were not for the hoodie and Raybans that bring him bang up to date.”.

Beatrix Potter gave a copy of her illustrated story to her Chelsea tailor, who in turn displayed it to a representative of the trade journal, “The Tailor & Cutter”. The journal’s review appeared on Christmas Eve 1903: “….we think it is by far the prettiest story connected with tailoring we have ever read…”.

The words quoted above from Rob Ryan continue: “It’s always been my aim to somehow weave them all together to keep each other company, nobody in the world should have to feel alone.”.

And Beatrix Potter explains: “For behind the wooden wainscots of all the old houses in Gloucester, there are little mouse staircases and secret trapdoors; and the mice run from house to house through those long narrow passages; they can run all over the town without going into the streets.”.

At this point I am quite prepared to believe that there will be a direct etymological connection between Clotho, in Greek mythology one of the three Fates, and her role as spinner of the Threads of Life. Perhaps I’ve heard too many cracker jokes lately. “hoakley” of The Eclectic Light Company suggests that only John Melhuish Strudwick, in his painting “A Golden Thread” (1885), depicts the thread in two different colours, gold (for life) and grey. The bottom panel of his painting shows Lachesis measuring out the thread as Clotho spins, while Atropos sits poised to wield “th’abhorred shears” (Milton).

Hilary Spurling has written of Henri Matisse who, when greatly diminished in strength in the last decade of his life and with minimal mobility, produced work of inexhaustible imaginative power and vitality:

“He made an astonishing number of increasingly ambitious cut-paper compositions, setting up a production line after the war in what he called his factory in Nice, where studio assistants covered sheets of paper with gouache mixed to his own direction in colours almost blindingly bright. He said he was drawing with scissors, cutting directly into colour, abolishing the conflicts – between colour and line, emotion and execution – that had slowed him down all his life.” Truman Capote, for his part, declared: “I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil.”.

John Ashbery nudges us into another new year:

“I don’t look on poetry as closed works. I feel they’re going on all the time in my head and I occasionally snip off a length.”.

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