He’s not the best English speaker in New York, but his skills with the scissors makes Ming Liang Lu one of the most popular subway artists in the big city. The Chinese master claims the art he practices, cutting people’s portraits out of black paper, is unique in the world.
If you’ve ever used the metro, you’re probably familiar with subway performers like dancers or violin and guitar players, but Ming Liang Lu is a different kind of entertainer. Using a small piece of black paper and scissors, he’s able to create intricate, slightly caricatured portraits of subway riders and passers-by, even without looking at them for reference. That might not sound like a lot, but seeing him manipulate that small sheet of folded paper while holding the scissors almost completely still will blow your mind.
Ming Liang Lu’s English is rudimentary, but it’s enough to make irresistible compliments to people who’s faces he finds worthy of his skill. While asking them the usual conversational questions like “how old are you?” or “where are you from?” , the Chinese master cuts away at his little piece of paper, replicating even fine details like hairs and wrinkles. After he’s done cutting, he shows his small masterpiece to everyone gathered around him and tapes it to a foam board full of other detailed portraits. The 57-year-old artist will cut you a portrait for a small fee, but most times he’s happy just recreating an interesting face. “Not about money” he says, “about face”.
The art of paper cutting dates back to the Han Dynasty, in China, where it’s usually associated with traditional designs like animals and flowers. Ming Liang Lu adapted this old technique to create facial portraits. He says you’re not going to see anyone else do these, anywhere in the world. In his native Shanghai, Lu was renowned for stone sculpture and stamp seal carving, and credits his talent to create detailed paper portraits to his formative training in a three-dimensional form.