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Pedro Ortega Lozano

Cut-paper retablos detail the significance of faith

At first glance, one could be forgiven for thinking the precise and delicate paper designs created by Pedro Ortega Lozano were mechanically cut; however, a closer inspection reveals the tiny variations in line and shape that make hand-made artworks singularly unique. Meticulously rendered and vibrantly colored, the retablos, collages, and papel picado inventions of Mexican artists depict a variety of themes from the divine to the everyday. 

Pedro is a self-taught master working in a challenging medium that requires patience, self confidence, acute close-up vision, and a steady hand. Using a variety of cutting tools including multiple sizes of scissors and exacto knives, as well as inks, dyes, watercolors, pens and brushes to add color and fine-line details, he makes individual paper pieces that are carefully glued into place to create 2D collages and low-relief retablos. Typically, retablos, which are traditionally painted or carved from wood, are small devotional artworks made to honor or thank a saint for the favors they grant their worshippers. Pedro’s retablos are full of distinctly Mexican imagery including fruited corn stalks, axolotls, marigolds, and loosely flowing swags in red, white, and green. Demanding even more delicacy, the art of papel picado, cutting designs from tissue paper, requires incredible finesse; a deep sigh can sidetrack a project, unsettling stacks of whisper-thin, diaphanous sheets of paper. Pedro’s papel picado flags come in a variety of familiar Dia de los Muertos images, including skulls, skeletal Catrinas, and mariachis.

Cut paper artwork has been an aspect of traditional Mexican culture since pre-Hispanic times, used as decorative banners for festivals, birthdays, and liturgical ceremonies. Though Pedro Ortega Lozano didn’t inherit the paper-cutting techniques from his own family, he is keen on sharing them with his sons, who he hopes will preserve this beautiful and unique art form for many years to come.