Artist 'paints' with colored paper; Unusual technique produces bold images


At first glance, Deborah Claxton's work appears to be simpler than it is.

Claxton, a Glenelg artist, has developed an innovative form of art known as "paper painting." Painstakingly cutting and attaching brightly colored pieces of paper onto a canvas, Claxton creates pictures that are striking and unusual.

Using a magnifying lamp, Claxton attaches tiny pieces of colored paper that have been cut exactly to specifications. The large piece of acid-free watercolor board she uses as a canvas contains hundreds of numbers that correspond to the shape and color of the paper she must place there, initially giving it the appearance of a huge paint-by-number set.

"People are just blown away because it is so unbelievably unique," said Kristine Woodward, owner of the Woodward Gallery in New York, which represents Claxton. "It's so time-consuming, and people sometimes use the word compulsive when they talk about her work. But it's actually therapy for her because she finds peace in completing her art."

Claxton, 49, finds a sense of peace and accomplishment in the technique that for some might seem a bit tedious. A seemingly shy person, Claxton appears to have reserved her boldness for the colorful paintings she produces.

"If I couldn't do this, I would be miserable," she said recently during a rare break in her living room. "I just love to work."

That love is evident in the complex cut-paper pieces Claxton creates in her brightly lighted studio at home. Beginning with a photograph she has taken of a scene that intrigues her, she makes a line drawing based on the shapes she sees within the image.

Then it's time to choose a palette. Claxton works with almost 400 shades of paper, all with a dry- mount adhesive backing. After selecting her colors, she numbers each shape on the canvas with a corresponding code before beginning the process of tracing and transferring the shapes to paper to aid in the cutting.

After that is completed, she cuts the colored paper into the necessary shapes and assembles them onto the board. The piece is completed when she has burnished and varnished it.

Claxton said her method allows her to fuse her love of sculpting, drawing, photography and painting.

"I love shapes, and there is a lot of designing in this process," she said as she peered through a magnifying lamp while working on her latest creation, a picture of a vine-covered cabin. "I just have such a passion for the materials, and it is wonderful to be able to put together all these things I love."

Claxton's creativity began early. She would often work on puzzles as a child growing up in Washington. As she grew older she began to sculpt, take photographs and draw.

"I spent 10 years just drawing," she recalled. "I did sketch books and self-portraits. I drew anywhere and everywhere."

She continued her artwork while raising her daughter, Rita Turner, now a 21-year-old college student. Along the way she found a creative soul mate in her husband of eight years, Jim Claxton, a salesman and photographer.

In 1995 she began the cut-paper work, which she says sprang from her imagination. She has completed 20 paper paintings that can take six weeks to 2 1/2 months to complete.

Using a computer and specialized printer, her husband perfected a way of creating limited-edition prints of her work that would maintain the integrity of the colors she works with.

"Using the papers, the color is so pure," Jim Claxton said. "They don't get muddy like what can happen when you paint. It's incredible."

Bob Haney, owner of Town Creek Landscaping and Construction Co. and Town Creek Nursery in Clarksville has a print of "Hickory," a large tree with brown and golden leaves that seems to stretch to the heavens, hanging in his office. Haney said he often gets compliments on the paper painting.

"It's just beautiful to look at," said Haney, who discovered Claxton's work after meeting her husband. "After I found out how she did it, I was even more impressed."

Kevin Spittle, who also discovered Claxton after doing business with her husband, displays her prints in his homes in Florida and North Carolina. A consultant and entrepreneur, Spittle said he is "overwhelmed" by Claxton's skill.

"From 15 feet away, you can't tell it's not painted," Spittle said. "At some point, I would love to buy one of her originals."

Claxton said she is working on her 21st cut-paper piece and looks forward to seeing where the shapes will take her next.

"I guess I will keep doing it as long as I have the passion for it," she said. "This body of work has been the first complete thing that I feel like has all of me."

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