Hand-cut paper serves as the medium for Rosa Leff’s blend of traditional artistry and the modern as she creates scenic and city landscapes, portraits, and even still lifes. First, Leff’s unique appeal resides in her approach to paper cutting. She captures on cut paper unremarkable scenes that are remade into exceptional works of art with her surgeon-like cuts. Secondly, her choice of medium: Leff not only cuts onto paper of all sizes but also other paper-like supports (paper towels and plates, takeout boxes). The combination of subject and methodology creates engaging pieces of delicate artistry.
Leff’s talents didn’t go unnoticed as a child. Her grandmother, an oil painter, provided access to easels and a plethora of art supplies. With these tools and the family influence Leff’s childhood was imbued with the arts.
Leff continued her craft in art classes as an adolescent but stopped after college; putting her craft on pause to begin a career in education as a kindergarten teacher. During this transitional period away from the arts, Leff described herself as “feeling creatively starved” as she focused on a professional career rather than her creative one. Once Leff realized that the arts were her ultimate passion, she renewed her focus on creative persuits.
The uniquely intricate art of paper cutting is a very time-consuming process that Leff says, “is a way for me to meditate. It’s something you have to do slowly. Just like people work to control their breathing, forcing my hands and body to slow down helps me feel centered. Sometimes I cut in silence so I can reflect on my day or something that’s bothering me. But sometimes I binge watch (listen to) reality TV so that I don’t have to think at all. I’ve cut some work about my childhood and that definitely requires a lot of meditation. The meditation helps me feel at peace and allows me to comfortably share what I’ve created, but it doesn’t always give me the words to be able to communicate just how significant a cut is which can be frustrating.”
The hidden gems found in Baltimore and Leff’s hometown of Philadelphia have been a comfort especially when the artist found herself moving from a bustling city to the suburbs of Maryland.
Leff’s keen eye for detail reflected in her work. She says, “I really love capturing the little mundane details that most people overlook. That’s easy if I’m in a city I know well because I know exactly what constitutes “regular” there. When I’m in Philly or Baltimore I go out looking for graffiti, interesting dumpsters, abandoned buildings, dated bar signs, or whatever I’m in the mood for that day. I have friends and collectors who will send me pictures or an address of something they think I should go check out.”
With the current times, Leff remains positive and busy as she balances creating and teaching her kindergarten class via Zoom. Just like many creative minds, inspiration is bountiful. When asked about any current or future projects in the works Leff said, “Right now I’m working on a series of life-sized self-portraits. All the ‘Rosas’ will be displayed in free standing frames between two sheets of plexiglass. I’d been wanting to work on this scale for a long time, but it began to feel more urgent following the murders of Breonna and George. There were so many attempts to dehumanize them. It’s definitely also a response to being told I’m “so well spoken,” that my English is really good “for a Spanish girl” or all the times people treated me like I was out of place just because I was the only brown girl in the room. It’s a way to, quite literally, take up space. I like the idea of someone who’s inclined to make assumptions about people of color being forced to walk around my portrait. My goal is to portray myself in as many of my roles as possible. There’ll be Rosa as a teacher at a Jewish day school, Rosa ready for happy hour with friends, Rosa working out, Rosa at an exhibition opening, etc. The idea is that not only can a Black woman be anything, but a Black woman can be a dozen things all at once.”
With every connecting cut, Leff creates a bond as the piece becomes evidence of a memory and a sense of pride. Leff manages to draw attention and emotion to what many would otherwise overlook or take for granted, and she has created a successful artistic career out of it. Such beautiful creations have allowed Leff to receive multiple grants, participate in many classes, presentations, and workshops, as well as show her work in exhibits like Paper Works and China-U.S.-Japan Paper-Cutting Exchange Exhibition in Xianyang, China. Beacon Gallery is delighted to include her work in Urban Landscapes.