28.07.2020 by Charles Burns
Did I mention that I was building a time machine?
I’m delighted to report that my silhouette time machine is now live and active, and that you can use it @silhouettist
The concept is simple, to make my silhouettes available across all timezones. It does this by guiding people to one of my virtual studio days.
I’ve been running these virtual studio days over Zoom for the last couple of months. I set them up as online events and invite people to book a private, 10-minute sitting to have their silhouettes cut.
At first, I thought of these as simply a way to ride out the current crisis, but I quickly realised they’re more than that; they enable me to connect with people all over the world.
Virtual events are wonderful! In the privacy of their own homes people relax and begin to challenge me with poses they would never dream of adopting at a wedding or corporate dinner. As an artist this is presenting me with a whole new set of challenges. The glimpses people offer me into their lives feels like a unique privilege.
Just as I was beginning to think I had cut every kind of silhouette there is to cut. How wrong could I be?
I began to realise – not for the first time – that the story is often more important than the silhouette. The stories people tell about their silhouettes form the memories of the future.
So I decided to collect some stories.
A One-Time Special Offer!
To celebrate the launch of my new website I’m offering free sittings at one of my virtual studio days. There are several taking place during August and you’ll find them really fun!
However, I’m not giving these away. I need a story from you.
Specifically, a story about a silhouette (well, what else would I want?)
It can be any silhouette: one of mine, or an antique, a family heirloom, or a silhouette made by a contemporary of mine. I don’t mind which silhouette you choose, I care more about the story.
Please base your story on this question: why is this silhouette important to me?
You can optionally include the following in your answer:
However, the thing I care most about is the personal importance you attach to this silhouette. If you still possess it, please also send me a photo. If not, a verbal description will do.
I’ll then send a voucher for you to redeem at any of my upcoming virtual studio days.
To me, silhouettes are all about travelling in time. This is not just an excuse for an attention-grabbing subject line (well, OK, that too… ) The silhouettes we own today are, often literally, shadows from the past. That’s why they can seem so important. The silhouettes I make today will eventually become shadows of tomorrows past (ie: of our time, today).
My new @silhouettist website contains a fledgling section called “Stories”. Currently, there’s not much there, but I plan a series of case studies designed to answer the question:
Why are silhouettes important?
This is where your story and any photographs you send might end up.
My hope is that by offering stories about why silhouettes are important, it will inspire people to visit my time machine and commission a silhouette of their own. The purpose fo the time machine is simply to make this possible right across the globe.
I found this silhouette in my parent’s attic, languishing forgotten at the bottom of an old truck. I was helping them to pack and move all their belongings as they left their Somerset village home of over 30 years for a smaller property, more suited to retirement.
I asked Mum who it was.
“It my mother, Betty!” came the astonished reply.
“Where did you find it?”
The silhouette is not stuck down, but comes loose with a printed backing paper in a glassine envelope. It has that typical quick-cut, street-art feel so typical of Montmartre. The artist cut an amazingly thin piece of paper to delineate the front of her blouse. I’m amazed it didn’t break years ago!
The backing card indicates it was cut by Claude Marin in Montmartre, Paris, and my mother estimated it was made in the early 1930s.
Claude Marin (1914-2001) was a French impressionist painter who lived in Montmartre. As a young man he supplemented his income by cutting silhouettes in the Place du Tertre, near Sacre Coeur Basilica.
As is so often the case with artists of this period, nobody has written a wiki article or website about him. However, you can see what I saw by searching for Claude Marin, artist and checking the images tab. You’ll see a number of small, impressionist paintings, some of which are really good.
My grandmother passed away when I was a young teenager. I remember her well, but she obviously didn’t look like this! Yet, this silhouette gives me a connection to her as a young woman, as well as to a young silhouettist whom I never knew.
I wonder what these two spoke about on the day, as he cut her portrait? Looking at this silhouette, and knowing (as I do) how it was cut, I feel like I’m travelling back in time. I can picture the scene so clearly!
This is why this silhouette remains one of my favourites.
Building the time machine was an absorbing process, but a lot of fun. I began by assuming that a timezone map would be both easy to find and simple to make. Wrong on both counts…
Contrary to my expectations, it turns out there aren’t 24 timezones at all, but many more. More places than I realised (Newfoundland, India, large parts of Australia, etc) use odd, half-hour timezones. A few, like Nepal, are just 15 minutes different from their neighbours.
I soon realised I needed to simplify things. So I took an executive decision to divide the entire planet into just eight broad timezones. Initially, each zone covered a three-hour time difference, but once I took into account all the “odd” timezones the borders between each became quite intricate.
Once done, it gave gave me an excuse to cut a map into some really interesting and unique silhouettes.
Please test it out and let me know where you end up.