Ama Voetsek, Art


by Robyn Perros / Images by Samora Chapman / 11.05.2015

Most artists will look at a blank canvas and see what they can add to it to create an artwork, but Durban artist Karla Nixon does things slightly differently – by seeing what she can take away.

Karla is one of the neatest looking artists I’ve ever seen. The bow in her hair doesn’t have to work too hard to keep her bob in place and the laces of her Tomy Takkies look like they’ve been tied by a surgeon. Order and planning seem to be in her nature and it shows in the intricate, clean lines of her unique art form of paper- cutting…


Two of Karla’s recently completed cutouts are spread out on a table as we enter her studio at The Durban University of Technology (DUT), where she is currently lecturing and completing her masters in Fine Art. “Growing up, I loved puzzles and since childhood I guess it’s been my thing; sitting down and really focusing to put something together. This obsessiveness always comes out in my work,” she tells us with a comfortable laugh, warming up the morning like a rich café coffee.

Karla was specializing in painting at DUT when she began experimenting with paper-cutting during a stencil assignment. From then on she became obsessed with the medium and she began to explore the world of street art. It was then that she discovered the work of American street artist, Swoon, who specializes in life-size wheatpaste prints – which is the next medium she plans on experimenting with.

With a steady hand and a tiny blade Karla uses numerous cutting techniques to transform paper into intricate patterns reflecting the complex spaces and boundaries in South Africa today. She works from her own photographs of her surroundings; draws them up, cuts them out and then puts in approximately 20 hours before completing a piece… a piece so fragile it could fall apart with the slightest mis-twitch of a finger.

Karla’s first stencil was of a suburban house, which became integral to her first body of work in this medium. It sparked her investigation into themes of suburbia and the space between urban environments and nature. Observing boundaries, facades and ideals of suburban life from the inside out you will notice a lot of imagery of barbed-wire fences in her pieces – which have come to be a symbolic image in South Africa today. “They always end up looking quite beautiful in papercuts and I would rather people find my work aesthetically pleasing and then find meaning,” she says, in defense of criticisms she’s received of her art being “too pretty.”


It seems fitting that with such a delicate art form, transience and temporality are the themes Karla is currently exploring in her masters. Her latest works depict two building sites and explore the process of change in the urban environment.

“This is an image of a bridge construction site in Springfield [Durban]. Everything is growing and degrading at the same time and it’s this relationship that interests me,” she says, luring us into the tiny cuts now sealed beneath a piece of glass.


Karla works predominantly with white paper but the trail of brown scraps on the floor lead us to her latest experiment. A face seems to have emerged from the corrugated cardboard hanging on the back wall and is one of Karla’s six portraits-in-progress using brown tones. The portraits are a more personal expression of change and transience and were purposely done on acid-free paper; meaning that the portraits will not last and will inevitably fall apart. “The idea of artwork not lasting interests me,” Karla says, “I think that’s quite beautiful actually and links a lot to graffiti/street art, where my interest [in paper cutting] initially started…”


On the topic of ephemeral art, Karla sports a pair of custom Tomys, which were painted live at last year’s Interpret Durban event by one of Durban’s dopest street artists/designers – Skullboy – and bought for her by her boyfriend, another well-known artist, Dane Stops.

“I really like the idea that an artist bought an artwork for an artist,” she says with a laugh, rocking back and forth admiring her collector’s kicks. “I’m going to wear them, even though I like Skullboy’s work a lot. I love the colours.”


There are few artists in South Africa today who do what Karla Nixon does and the personal reflections and confrontations expressed through her work delicately cut through the inner and outer barriers we’ve created between us and our environment. Although confronting these issues can sting as sharply as a paper cut, perhaps through art they can be as transient too…


See more of Karla Nixon’s work at and

*Portraits © Samora Chapman

**Artwork images © Dane Stops

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