14 Masters of Paper Sculpture

Most artists approach paper as a two-dimensional surface upon which to draw or paint. Others see it in an entirely different way, using it as an architectural material for the most unexpected of three-dimensional works. From wispy, dynamic cut-outs hovering in the air to replicas of entire cities, the works of these 14 paper artists astonish and amaze.

Eerie Flexible Paper Works by Li Hongbo

What appear to be porcelain or ceramic sculptures stretch and bend in ways you’d never expect – because they’re made from thousands of layers of paper, glued together into accordion-like configurations. Their true nature is only revealed when they are manipulated. Artist Li Hongbo got his inspiration from traditional Chinese toys made from folded and glued pieces of thin paper.

Hand-Cut Paper Sculptures by Nahoko Kojima

A single sheet of paper becomes a leopard, a peacock, a forest, a skull or a masterful life-sized swimming polar bear in the hands of Japanese paper artist Nahoko Kojima. A single piece can take up to six months to create. Byaku, the polar bear, is inspired by the forces of nature.

Amazingly Intricate Paper Scenes by Allen and Patty Eckman

Have you ever seen paper look so dynamic, so infused with life? Allen and Patty Eckman met at Art Center College and soon put their talents to work in collaborative efforts focusing primarily on Native American history. The artists make their own paper pulp, casting it in clay molds to capture this level of detail.

City Maps by Matthew Picton

Matthew Picton creates detailed paper street maps of cities, often using the delicacy of the material to remark upon traumatic events in each location’s past. London in 1940 after Waterloo, Dresden, and Hiroshima all bear the destruction of war in the form of burn marks and tears.

Large-Scale Paper Sculptures by Ellen Rixford

Artist Ellen Rixford typically works in bright, colorful, textural paper, but some works in plain white and pale colors relay an echo of the marble sculptures and architecture that inspired them. Among them are Michelangelo’s Tomb of Guiliano Di’ Medici, a 4.5-foot paper sculpture showing the artists’ ghost as a shadow at the left, and Palladio’s Church of Redemption.

Geometric Paper Art by Matthew Shlian

Self-proclaimed ‘paper engineer’ Matthew Shlian describes himself thusly because his works require more than just artistic vision; they’re driven by complex mathematics. Shlian collaborates with scneitists and researchers who are “just now recognizing the practical connections between paper folding and folding at microscopic and nanoscopic scales.”

Anatomical Paper Cross-Sections by Lisa Nilsson

Quilled paper makes for what looks, from a distance, like real anatomical cross-sections of human body parts. Lisa Nilsson rolls pieces of Japanese mulberry paper into ‘quills’ and pins them into place on top of a photograph to produce a realistic effect that takes weeks to come to completion.

Graphite-Covered Paper Installations by Andreas Kocks

Paper doesn’t quite look like paper anymore when it’s coated in graphite and splattered across gallery walls in fluid splotches. Andreas Kocks cuts and sculpts heavy watercolor paper to transform the “‘contained architectural box’ into a territorial surface.”

Topographic Paper Sculptures by Li Hongjun

Beijing-based artist Li Hongjun also uses layer upon layer to create topographic paper sculptures with positive and negative shapes, often in the form of human heads that can be cross-sectioned and twisted for a surreal effect.

Paper Architecture by Christina Lihan

It’s no surprise that artist Christina Lihan was originally trained as an architect, considering how dimensional and real her elaborate paper relief sculptures of skyscrapers and cities can look. Lihan mounts her sculptures in shadowboxes to give them an even more 3D appearance.

Paper Cities by Ingrid Siliakus

Ingrid Siliakus is another artist creating three-dimensional architectural works in paper, crafting entire cities with the tiniest of details like staircases, arches and spires. Her works have included replicas of buildings by master architects, like Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia.

Paper Dome by Kelsey Olson

Fragile as it seems, paper is sometimes used in architectural applications, creating small temporary structures that can feel surprisingly sturdy and comforting – like this womb-like dome by Kelsey Olson of Minneapolis College of Art and Design.

Lantern-Like Paper Art Installations by Kirsten Hassenfeld

‘Danse la Lune’ is an installation in paper and mixed media by artist Kirsten Hassenfeld, with illuminated structures that resemble lanterns.

Life-Size Paper Girls by Vally Nomidou

Life-sized girls and women are crafted from paper and cardboard by Greek artist Vally Nomidou. According to her statement, “The artist respects her material and, although it is cheap and vulnerable, she does not ‘adulterate’ it by using other materials. Moreover, she does not use it as a shell, an encasing to cover a necessary inner structure by providing a fake, idealized skin. Nomidou builds and shapes her works from the inside out solely using paper and cardboard.”

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