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Black and White and Beautiful!

Think back to the first time you saw a Cirque du Soleil performance. Remember how it made you rethink what it is to be a circus? Beth White’s astonishingly intricate silhouettes are doing the same thing for the centuries-old practice of paper cutting. She is redefining the art. 

Historically considered a poor cousin to photography and portraiture, silhouettes—the name comes from Etienne de Silhouette, the miserly finance minister under Louis XV—once provided an affordable alternative to those more-expensive art forms. And the stereotypical image many have of a silhouette (also called scherenschnitte in German) is the child’s profile hanging in an oval frame on Grandmother’s bedroom wall. 

"What I do is take a black piece of paper, and I draw the image I want on the back. And then I cut away what I don’t want,” she said, even as the pieces hanging around her on the walls of her Sylvan Park condominium bespeak a more complex origin. What White really does is render beautiful, sophisticated images using elaborate patterns that she painstakingly cuts away using a No. 11 X-Acto knife while wearing jeweler’s glasses. The result is art with a wow factor, which has appeared on album covers, book jackets, her own line of greeting cards, and in private collections around the world.

 Perhaps in homage to the heyday of silhouettes in the nineteenth century, many of White’s pieces have a wistful, yesteryear quality to them. “That’s my favorite period,” said White, a Maryland native who came to Nashville in 1973 after graduating from Tulane. “I like the ‘40s, and I did some ‘50s work, and I’ve done modern silhouettes too, but I don’t like them as much. They don’t have the charm. The nineteenth century was a charming era,” she said.    

Recurrent motifs in White’s work, particularly in her earlier pieces, include women, cats, and open windows with curtains wafting in a gentle breeze. “The windows started as a way to layer things; then you have to put somebody in front of them, and women are more fun to do than men. They’re more sensual, and they have more curves; they have more things—physical features, clothing—that you can work with in silhouette. And cats have a sensual thing to them that I really like.” 




Submitted by: Jackie D.

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