Paper man Rob Ryan is still cutting it

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If you don't know Rob Ryan's name, you'll have seen the papercut designs that made it: on the cover of Stylist, in the windows of Paul Smith, at online marketplace Etsy or on the tea-towels and egg-cups he sells from his Ryantown shop on Hackney's Columbia Road. His scalpel has become ubiquitous, a one-man production line of fretwork and romance.

Until last year, when this unassuming 48-year-old learned how to say no. "I had a bit of a freak-out," he says from his Bethnal Green studio. "Someone

would suggest something and I'd be, "Yeah, let's do it", until I was doing 80 per cent collaborations and commissions and only 20 per cent my own work. I remember clearly the first time I said: "I can't." I thought: if I turn this down, I'm never going to work again. I had this idea people would think I was fussy."

In truth, Ryan's only fussiness is attention to detail, evident in the happy results of his self-enforced break, not one but two exhibitions of new work: The Stars Shine All Day Too at London's Air Gallery and Your Job Is to Take This World Apart and Put It Back Together Again... But Even Better!!! in Stafford. Both titles are trademark Ryan, betraying the unabashed lack of cynicism that has made his design "Can We, Shall We?" a bestseller in cardshops around the land.

Do they also mark papercut's elevation from craft to art in the public eye? The Barbican's December show, Flyboy Is Alone Again This Christmas will feature the bewitching papercuts of young puppeteer-musician Matthew Robins. Meanwhile, Ryan's Stafford haul includes his original illustrations for Carol Ann Duffy's new children's book, The Gift. "It's a timeless fairy story, which works with papercut," he says, "I don't draw cars and tower blocks well. Trees and turrets are my thing."

Air Gallery, London W1 ends tomorrow; Shire Hall Gallery, Stafford, until 9 January (www.misterrob.co.uk)

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