This weekend multimedia artist Elsa Mora, who designed one of MoMA’s signature holiday cards this year, will bring her incredible cut-paper creations to the MoMA Design Store in Soho. Shoppers, creatives, and art aficionados alike can stop by to see her work come to life, and meet with Mora in person. Earlier this week I asked Mora to share some thoughts about her particular art-making techniques and to give Inside/Out readers a sneak peek of what she has planned for her MoMA Design Store “weekend residency.”
MoMA: Have you always made art from paper? When/how did you begin working in this medium?
I began working with paper as a medium six years ago. It all started as a series of simple explorations. But the explorations soon turned into a passion that has not stopped growing, up to this day. Before paper, there was painting, ceramics, drawing, photography. Those are mediums that I love and will never stop practicing, because having the freedom to jump from one medium to another is important to me. But paper is such a fascinating thing. It’s like a mysterious room with a door, once you open that door and enter the new room, you keep finding new doors and new rooms. It’s an infinite world that never ends. I will try to keep opening as many doors as I can, for as long as my hands allow me.
How have your designs evolved over time?
I walk down two roads when it comes to paper. One road is the commercial work that I do by commission, specifically for the publishing world of books and magazines. Then there is the road where I create work to satisfy my personal needs as an artist. The commercial work has helped me develop a set of skills that I truly appreciate. Because I have a time frame and a thematic framework, I need to push my imagination to find good design solutions, and also need to create the actual artwork quickly. The road of my personal art on the other hand is deeper and more wild since I invent my own rules. The creative process there is never lineal. Many times I find myself doing things that were not in my mind when I started. This type of work is becoming larger, more detailed, and sometimes less figurative. I feel that both roads have evolved over time and they somehow push each other to grow in different directions.
Can you describe your art-making process? What special materials or tools do you use?
When I’m creating commercial work, the most important thing is to define the concept. I draw it as clearly as possible so the team can understand my vision. Once I get the green light from them, it’s all about translating that concept into paper. My tools are simple: a pencil, paper, an eraser, a knife, a cutting mat, scissors, some embossing tool to shape paper, and glue. For my personal art the process is different. Since I don’t need to show my concept to other people, the dialogue is with myself. Half of the process happens in my head and the other half happens directly on the table. Sometimes head and hand work in sync, and sometimes one takes over the other. But it is the process where I experience the most freedom. I never want to come out of that world.
Tell us about the design for your MoMA holiday card.
The card for MoMA has been one of my favorite projects. Working with Karen Hernandez as the voice of the retail creative team at the Museum was such a pleasure. Before coming up with the final design we developed tons of different concepts. With this type of intricate paper product you need to keep many elements in mind, such as the cost of production, size, etc. My main intention was to create not just a card, but a decorative three-dimensional object that could be reused every holiday season. I imagined receiving the card myself. Would I want to keep it for next year? If the answer was maybe not, then I kept trying new concepts until I had a card that felt special. I am very pleased with the final result. Many of my relatives have ordered more than one box to give the cards away to friends. My mom proudly brought a box to the senior home where she volunteers in Miami, Florida. Most of the people there are over 90 years old and they all loved it. That was the biggest compliment after all the hard work.
Are there any particular artists or artworks from MoMA’s collection that have been inspirational to you?
I recently went to see the Henri Matisse exhibition and I was blown away by his paper cut-outs. It wasn’t only the art that blew me away, but the fact that Matisse created that impressive body of work at an advanced age. He couldn’t see very well but an assistant helped him. His capacity to adapt when he couldn’t paint anymore and to keep expressing himself as an artist until the end was very inspiring to me.
What do you have planned for your upcoming MoMA Store demos in Soho?
I will be creating a three-dimensional artwork titled Winter Wonderland. The piece will be 32″ tall, 22″ wide, and 2 1/4″ deep. It is a shadow box with a detailed winter scene inside and lots of miniature objects. I am already creating the main elements because it is not possible to complete all the work in only two days. I will be at the MoMA Store in Soho on Saturday, November 8, from 2:00 to 6:00 p.m., and on Sunday, November 9, from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. I’m looking forward to answering any questions from adults and children on the weekend. I know that we will have a great time because paper art has the quality to make people happy.
You have a fantastic blog where you share other paper artists’ work. This highlights what seems to be a prolific community of creators in paper art—why do you think this is?
The community of paper cutters keeps growing and growing. I get excited every time I discover a new artist working with paper. Some of them are exclusively focused on this material, while others have already developed carers in other mediums and feel inspired to explore the possibilities of paper. It is extremely inspiring seeing the different ways in which artists are using paper, from large installations and stop-motion animation to photographic work and graphic design. The possibilities are endless. I believe that what keeps drawing creatives to this medium is its expressive potential. It is surprising how versatile such a simple material can be.
Are there any future projects that you would like to share with us?
I am extremely excited about my first solo museum show, which will take place at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art in Eugene, Oregon, in 2016. This exhibition will be traveling to other museums. I am planning to create some sort or cabinet of curiosities with paper. It will be a long and laborious process, but I can’t wait to jump into it. My head is so full of ideas that I almost can’t go to sleep at night. My plan is to share the creative process on my blog.
What advice can you give someone to help get their creativity flowing?
Strengthen your self-awareness muscle, because that will help you identify what is not working. Keep negative distractions under control. And find ways to have fun doing what you do.
Update: Below is a pic from the in-store event and a detail of the amazing piece Mora created for the holiday display. You can read more about the event and see additional details on Mora’s blog.