Paper is deceptively fragile. It can tear easily, or dissolve in water.
But papers are stronger than they look – notably hemp or mulberry papers from Asia, which were once used as armor. Even today, papers are used to make windows and doors in Japan.
Many contemporary artists use paper as a starting point for their experiments. It’s an affordable surface to work with. Liberating, even. You can create without fear of destruction, because the destruction is inevitable.
The work of Peter Callesen embodies this perfectly. Death, life, and every cliche in between are fair game. In his artworks, the negative space is just as important as the positive.
Peter Callesen, The Short Distance Between Time and Shadow 2012 by Cite de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine
With patience, a knife, and a steady pair of hands, he transforms ordinary office paper into the extraordinary.
Callesen at work by elementalc
Another artist whose work deals with paper, negative space, and transience is Jum Nakao. He straddles art and fashion.
Photo by Pri G Guerra
Nakao and assistants spent up to 700 hours slicing and folding paper into dresses for a show. When models completed their turn on the catwalk, they ripped the paper dresses off their bodies for the finale.
Jum Nakao’s dress installation by Nexa Wiziack
In a micro installation, Nakao let rats loose among miniature versions of his paper dresses.
Closeup of rats by Kaka on Flickr
The rats found the sugar-coated dresses irresistible.
Vortex by Tomoko Shioyasu Photo by Cumulo-Nimbus
Tomoko creates three-dimensional paper sculptures out of intricately-cut paper, light, and air. In her installations, light shines through holes in her cut ‘paper tapestries’ to the wall and floor, and draft from ventilation soars through the room and moves through the paper.
This artist cuts gigantic sheets of paper with intuitive designs based on natural forms like leaves and typhoons. She works with a few feet of paper at a time, in her mother’s small traditional home in Tokyo. When she wants to see how the work is coming along, she and her mother take it to a community center on a bicycle. There, Tomoko unrolls it, and can finally see what she’s made.
Jeff Nishinaka- Bulwark 451 from BERNSTEIN & ANDRIULLI on Vimeo.
Jeff Nishinaka is an American paper sculptor. This video shows how he made an incredibly detailed scene of paper, then set it on fire. It was commissioned by a company hat makes fire-resistant clothing.
These days I teach art at an international school. My students were suitably impressed, particularly by the rats and burning paper. After I introduced the them to the artists above, I let the students loose with A2 size office papers, and here’s a sample of what they came up with:
A brilliant series of abstract sculptures. Instead of using adhesives like tape or glue, this student created a tab system, and curved the paper into abstract forms.
His classmate tackled the Great Wall.
They’re both just 13.
Every day there’s something in China that blows my mind. These days it’s my students. Each time we work together, they remind me of why I became an artist in the first place.
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