Cardboard, Paper and Papier-Mache

I’ve been enjoying using low tech materials to make my sculptures and think the contrast to the high tech digital concepts is interesting. I’ve been looking at other artists who’ve used cardboard and papier mache as mediums and who’ve accepted the resultant crude finish. Through the 20th century cardboard hasn’t featured that prominently – the Cubists and Kurt Schwitters used it in collages, but it’s not been used so much for its own properties – the art world probably sees these mediums as too impermament or craft oriented. A few artists do use ‘crappy’ materials for their own sake; for example Joseph Beauys and Colin Self. But more recently artists (perhaps green inspired) have been developing ideas specifically geared to these mediums.

Honorary mention should go to Niki Saint Phalle whose range of cheerful styles included papier-mache originally. She soon adapted to plaster and wire frames to enable the sculptures to get bigger, but the pieces still have that rough finish. Here’s her most famous piece ‘Hon’:

If you type cardboard artist into Google you will typically find two types of art:

1) organic forms – ironically often laser cut
2) decorative pattern based art

Good examples of these approaches would be the contemproary work of Tobias Putrih (which suggest gnarled up figures) and Mark Langan’s semi-reliefs. In both cases corrugated layering, and granular possibilities are the key design considerations.

More exacting is the work of Chris Gilmour who builds as accurate as possible life-size models of cars, bicycles and other machines. The chief aesthetic response to these would be Wow! (I suppose) I’ve always appreciated art that looks as if it has taken a lot of (boring) work to put together – even if the work is shared by a team, but can’t find much more in the objects. (edit) This is perhaps unfair as I haven’t seen any of the works in the flesh. The redundancy of making anything original is a theme which I have related to in the past.

My work seems to sit somewhere between painstaking effort and a playful crude finish. A good example of an art aesthetic like this (though not made from card) would be Claes Oldenburg’s soft sculptures of the 60’s. These reacted against what a sculpture should be – hard, marble, imposing, classical and also reflected the disposability of 60’s culture and the game like experimental happenings of the time – which these sculptures often served as props for. Oldenburg developed them further into larger and more permament, but still cheap looking, sculptures like the apple core below

Segal’s sculptures of the same period, which although made of solid stuff also share an unfinished surface which contrasted with the ‘modern’ settings he gave them. Another fantastical artist of the time, Ed (and Nancy) Kienholz used a wide range of materials (including papier mache) to make visceral dangerous assemblages which usually had some kind of melting or bespattered or messed up finish.

Both artists were predominantly figurative and suggested humans trapped or encased in the detritus of their times. The idea of a figure escaping from a pose, through movement, has been raised before in terms of my sculptures – also the idea of metamorphosis. Contrasting a moving human with a static backdrop is something I’d like to explore in the future. ( One simple ideas, which time allowing I may make, is a drunk falling off a bench. This would in a way triple with the other two balancing pieces in the show, and also allow me to explore the weather proofing of papier-mache. There’s a good location for this piece outside college on the benches. )

Papier-Mache has a history as long as the invention of paper. It is used in toy manufacture, craft and folk art to this very day. Here are some vivid examples from Venuzuela. The ease, low cost and flexibility of the medium lends itself to bizarre new forms like this comic centipede monster.

A recent Lincoln artist, Roy Ealden, has received some acclaim for his papier mache mulched sculptures. Although I find the treatment a little gaudy, what I like here is the use of semi-relief – I have ideas to make large scale images with hundred of small figures (made using long exposure techniques) snaking across city scenes – for example ‘exploding’ out of a tube station. One thing that is great about papier-mache is that people really understand it as a medium – it doesn’t frighten them. By allying this friendliness to a fairly abstract concept (motion in 4D) I think that an interesting conflict is set up, which leads the viewer into the piece to try and unravel its complexity of form.

Finally three artists who use not card, but paper in interesting ways. Thomas Demand shares with me a meticulous process whereby he models entire 3d scenes from colored paper. The scenes are often taken from media photographs of venues of some disturbance or historical note. The final model is then rephotographed – further displacing the viewer from the action. Below a TV studio set, which if I remember correctly (I saw the piece in Cardiff 2 years ago) was on air on German Television at the exact time of the Kennedy assassination.

Osang Gwon takes photographs of humans and then pastes these photographs to rough life-size models. The difficult concept of humans encased in their own media representation is in play, but the results are also just very ‘cool’ to look at, and his work is currently popular in media spreads, and does lend itself well to such use – I wonder if his method is protected?

Similar in style but much harder to produce are the 3D masks of Bert Simons These are made by creating a 3D digital approximation of a real face (you can do this crudely in Poser for example), and then printting a 2D geometry from the 3D model which can be folded back into 3 dimensions. Clever stuff.


3 Responses to “Cardboard, Paper and Papier-Mache”

  1. Jerry Says:

    I have a laser cutter… and I have Poser. How do I make the 3D model into a 2D pattern to print and cut? THis would be great to experiment with!


    • timpickup Says:

      I export the sequence (or single frame) as an OBJ file.
      then this file is cleaned up using some java programs I wrote and then converted into a voxel array and then slices are output as bmps. the method is explained on my blog, but not the details. the 3d coding OBJ to voxels was not too difficult once you use some helpful ‘line intersecting plain’ algorithms.

      good luck

  2. Spencer Says:

    It’s so difficult for me to speak in this cube. But i want to because basically i use this medium and have done so for over 12 years now and i feel the way i use it is very different to the way i see it being used. Sounds a little strange and i am certainly not trying to be clever. You see the experience of making is my piece of heaven and the ordinary people i come into contact with. I can make it every where and any where, i have travelled with it and it has lead me down paths artists rarely go. It’s free, almost ! and it doesn’t need to have cash value. People judge it from many different stand points, most of them perhaps looking to see how difficult objects are to make. But the piece at the end is really always completely dead. So i keep making and keep meeting people and keep traveling with it. Of the images you show early Nikki does it for me and i never knew she existed until a few years ago. Thanks for letting me rabbit on a little.

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