Jennifer Falck Linssen often tells her students to keep an open mind -- to listen to themselves and just begin, no matter how good or crazy the idea seems at the time. Following her own advice has served Linssen well, and the proof of the pudding is seen in her spectacular katagami sculptures that cross the threshold of fine craft and contemporary art.
With a successful career in textile design in North Carolina, Falcke Linssen—a textile graduate from the University of Wisconsin in Madison, made the jump to katagami when she moved to Colorado. Interested in learning more about natural dyeing techniques, she signed up for a class in Japanese printing and dyeing taught by John Marshall—a katazome artist (specialist in using katagami stencils with resist paste and dye) who had apprenticed in Japan. Marshall, who would become Falcke Linssen's mentor, taught her to carve traditional stencils in the hikibori (pull-carving) and dogubori (punch carving) traditions.
Much to her surprise, Falcke Linssen became enamored with the actual carving and set aside her career to embark on a new one. She continued to study with Marshall, while researching traditional carving techniques. At this point, Falck Linssen was practicing katazome—painting and dyeing textiles with rice-paste resist, natural dyes, and hand-carved mulberry stencils.
Although in love with the process, Falck Linssen wanted more. Disappointed that no one saw the actual stencils, but just the finished textile, she decided to do something different, "All the while, I'd been contemplating ways of breaking the traditional flat stencil out of the 'usual' modus operandi. And one day, I took the plunge and answered the 'what if' question by creating my first contemporary katagami sculpture using traditional basketry techniques with my hand carved paper stencil."
The "what if" of Falcke Linssen's work combined the best of her worlds—her love of textile techniques, classical art training in drawing and painting and an avid interest in pattern. Her process starts with a small thumbnail drawing, which is refined into a full-size rendering of a sculpture. A model is next, built through flat pattern drafting. When the drawings for the carving patterns are finished, the paper is painted, dyed, carved, and varnished. The final three-dimensional piece is formed out of the flat carved paper pieces, stitched and woven with waxed linen and metal. Thus all the elements that Falck Linssen loves--drawing, paper carving, pattern drafting, stitching, and weaving—come full circle in the finished piece.
Although her designs are not inspired by traditional katagami patterns, they're heavily influenced by nature—a link to traditional Japanese art. The sculptures include simple clean lines with movement and a focused division of space into multiple grounds, using both positive and negative space. With these elements she builds her conceptual ideas regarding resiliency, rebirth, and endurance. Falcke Linssen explains, "My language has several points in common with Japanese art, particularly the important role 'line' plays. I find carved paper, particularly katagami-style carved paper, to be a powerful technical method of expressing this language - woodcuts, engraving, pen and ink, and even paint could be used successfully up to a point. But carved paper allows me to work three-dimensionally with light and shadow as my other medium."
Sometimes the work, Falck Linssen notes, has a life of its own, which can prove challenging when the artist has a different concept. She says, "Chasing the Curl was originally intended to be a much tighter, overlapping form. In the end, it needed to breathe. It wanted to stretch out and interact with space. And I believe because I listened to the piece itself and did not just dictated my desires; it succeeds on many levels, plus it was immediately purchased by a discerning collector."
Her first solo museum exhibition at the Craft and Folk Art Museum in Los Angeles was a success, and her artwork has been reviewed in top publications including The Los Angeles Times, American Craft Magazine and recently appeared in a six page article in Surface Design Journal. Her work has been embraced by fine craft and contemporary art collectors across the globe.
There's no doubt that the future is bright for Falck Linssen. So what's next? She's planning a new series whose forms and patterning echo those of sea anemone and urchins "whose substance connotes the fragility and resiliency of human life and interactions."
Circling back to the guidance she gives her students, Falck Linssen reflects back to when she wasn't pleased in the direction she was going, and mentioned it to a friend who wisely said, "Well, at least now you know you don't want to do it. If you hadn't tried, you wouldn't have known and you would have always wondered." This still resonates with Falck Linssen who adds, "It works as a clause to my advice to students mentioned earlier. You have to try, you have to trust yourself, or you will never get beyond the point of 'what if'."
To learn more about Jennifer Falck Linssen and katagami, please visit http://www.jenniferfalcklinssen.com. Future shows include a solo exhibit at the Springfield Art Museum in Missouri in the fall. For more information, contact the museum at (417) 837-5700.
Resiliency, Rebirth, Endurance
The katagami sculpture of Jennifer Falck Linssen