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Cristina Natsuko Paulos Creates Hanafuda Cards with a Lolita Sensibility

Cristina Natsuko Paulos at Work
Cristina Natsuko Paulos at Work

A painter, animator and puppet-maker, Cristina Natsuko Paulos has a whimsical, almost Lolita sensibility that we can appreciate. Central to her work are The Twins, mirror image little girls each bearing eyes of different sizes. Her pieces have appeared in galleries across Los Angeles, as well as in Las Vegas, New York, San Francisco and Barcelona.

Paulos' latest show "Who Cares About You? (You're Nothing but a Pack of Cards!)" opens Saturday night on the Project Wall at Silver Lake's Black Maria gallery. A continuation of a show she launched in Las Vegas two years ago, it will feature work that references her Portuguese and Japanese heritage as well as her time living in Las Vegas. The pieces are based on Japanese hanafuda playing cards, which were derived from Portuguese dragon cards.

Hanafuda remix 2007 from Cristina Paulos on Vimeo.

Why did you decide to use the cards in your project?

It's a remix of the hanafuda cards or sakura cards, they're called flower cards. They're from Japan, but they originated from Portuguese dragon cards. The original idea was for a show that I had in Vegas. It was called "Who cares for you? You're just a pack of cards." I used the idea of the scene from Alice in Wonderland when she falls and all of the cards fall on her. That's where the quote came from. I was remixing the idea of the Portuguese dragon cards into the hanafuda cards, which are seasonal and haiku based. The Portuguese cards were based more on the sea and the serpents, kind of like what we would see as tarot cards today, it's more similar to that. I had paintings that intertwined the two ideas together. The show at Black Maria will have the remaining paintings from the show in Las Vegas two years ago at The Fall Out.

When you say that the Japanese cards are seasonal, do you mean like the sakura [cherry blossoms] would be in the spring?

The suites are based on the seasons. The original cards were influenced by the Portuguese cards, when they Portuguese first came to Japan, they used the cards. During Japanese isolation time, they couldn't play with the cards because they felt that they were too Western, so they redid the cards and based it on haiku and seasons. There are forty-eight cards and each one is based on the month of the years and flowers.

"Ties Bind"
"Ties Bind"
Cristina Natsuko Paulos

Did the seasons dictate what paintings you used?

Yeah. I wanted to make the deck playable, so that people who knew the game could still play the cards based on the same flower suites. To make the paintings, I used paint and sumi ink and colored pencils. It's all on wood to keep the nature [element]. Because I'm half Portuguese and half Japanese, it's kind of cool to blend the two together. My great-grandfather had the original dragon cards. My dad would always say, "I remember my grandfather used to play those dragon cards." They used to gamble with them. My mom had all of the hanafuda or sakura cards.

Had you combined the two cultures together before in your work?

No, this was my first experience. When I found the cards, I didn't know how to play the game. I got a book and I started learning the history of it. I thought this was perfect. At the time, I was living in Vegas and always looking at cards. Every culture has their version of cards. Every person creates this object to play a game with something as simple as paper.

Everybody will connect with cards. They're used for gambling. Sometimes, they're used to predict the future. I wanted to bring it to Vegas because you go there and you have a good hand or you have a bad hand. People don't really think about cards that much, but they have a huge history.

How did your characters with the one big and one small eye develop?

I studied animation at Cal Arts and for my first film, I drew this character, even if I drew happy faces, it was one big eye and one small eye. When I made the film, it was supposed to be one character, but I switched the scene, I messed up the character design so she had the eye on the other side. So, they became mirror twins based on one character.


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