Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Hans Bittner: Artist is Snappy Snipper

(the following texts take from newspaper clips of the 1960's)

Bittner's esquisite, doily like scissor cuts are on display at the Neville-Sargent Gallery in Evanston through July 12, They will then be featured at the Paintin place in Oak Park for the rest of the month..

The soft spoken, white haired artist began doing scissor cuts in 1924 , two years before he immigrated to the United States. As an art student in Germany he studied painting, architecture and glasswork. He stumbled upon the rare silhouette art by accident.

"I saw some of the scissor cuts in a museum in Europe and I decided to take it up" Bittner says. "I've been doing it ever since"

Until Bittner retired six years ago, scherenscnitte was his hobby. He made his living as a commercial artist specializing in animation and cartooning.

Align Center

Bittner is a master of the old art form which, he said, was used in Europe from the 17th C. up to 1924. The art dates all the say back to the early Chinese and Japanese. One of the very few artists left in the world who create scissors-cut as a fine art, Bittner is the only miniature silhouette artist in the world today, he said.

Hans Oskar Bittner: Member: Palette and Chisel Acad. (dir. 1968-), Municipal Art League (dir, 1969-). Artist Guild Chicago. Exhibited: Ill Festival Art, Chicago 1964; three Main Library, Chicago; Chicago Chap Artists Equity Assn; Rockford College, Kenosha College & Univ. Wisconsin Stevens Point;

Work also shown on ABC and NBC. Awards (including the “You Asked for it” show in 1956): Several second place and honorable mentions, Palette and Chisel Academy and Municipal Art League; gold medal ,Col. Frank Chesrow, Chicago 1972.

Work: Collection of Crown Prince Wilhelm; Breslau Kunst Museum; Breslau Art Galleries; Chicago Art Galleries.

Positions: Glass and display designer, Goldblatt stores, 1930-1935; commercial artist, Vogue Wright, 1935-1945; artist and designer, Wilding Picture studio, 1952-1968 (the movie studio of Charlie Chaplin)

Now he spends four or five hours a day drawing and cutting the silhouettes in his Chicago studio. A member of Chicago's prestigious Palette and Chisel Academy and the Municipal Art League, he has won many awards for his unusual work.

Silhouette making was quite popular between 1750 and 1850 but Bittner and Hubert Leslie, an Englishman now in his 90's, are the only artists known for the scissor cuts.

The patient artist draws a scene and then traces the design on the back of sturdy black paper. Using finely honed manicure scissors, he cuts out individual figures and background elements. Each scene is cut from a single sheet of paper. One slip could ruin the delicate, often pencil-thin lines of the silhouette.

Eight to ten hours are spent cutting out simple scenes with a few solid figures, but large or complicated designs can take up to 60 hours. One very large forest scene with detailed trees, animals, cloud and steams took 200 hours of cutting time.

The lacy scissor cuts, ranging in size from a few inches square to over a foot high depict a spectrum of subjects. There are clowns, hunters, gnomes, gondoliers, Indians, modern dancers, picnickers and historic figures like Paul Revere. One of Bittner's funniest scissors cuts shows a fat woman huffing and puffing while pushing her husband and his roadster up a steep hill.

Bittner's favorites are scenes of life from 100 or 200 years ago, some inspired by old etchings. He likes to create noblewomen wearing hoop skirts and sun bonnets or elaborate wigs, dandies dressed in knee breeches and tri-cornered hats, stately coaches drawn by prancing horses and massive schooners in full scale.

If only Hans Bittner,
like Kara Walker,
had used his scissors cuts to explore
"race, gender, sexuality, violence and identity",

he might now be better known!


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