Engineer Matthew Shlian Turns Ordinary Sheets Of Paper Into Geometric Works Of Art
Paper is such a versatile material. It’s been around to help record the momentous milestones throughout history and now we use it for virtually anything. From product labels, receipts, resumes, books, product packaging, and even artworks – paper has become an integral material that we simply can’t do without. And some artists don’t just use paper as a medium for them to lay their vibrant creative visions on. Matthew Shlian, an artist and paper engineer who creates mind-blowing 3D paper sculptures is one of them. Through masterful and meticulous folds, he transforms flat, ordinary sheets into riveting 3D paper sculptures.
Initially, Shlian intended to learn how to do ceramic art. However, he realized that he wasn’t going to be content in learning just one craft. So, he decided to learn them all. “I began as an undergrad: I originally went to school for ceramics, but realized early on that I was interested in everything,” he said. “I studied glass, painting, performance, sound, and by the end I had a dual major in ceramics and print media.” Despite having two majors, Shlia’s preference for understanding things through a spatial aspect and love for geometry eventually pushed him to experiment with print media. He explained:
“I wasn’t making traditional print of ceramic work at that point. Instead I would create large diagonal prints and using a series of cut scores and creases create large scale pop up spreads. I was making 4 foot v-folds or fold pieces.”
Paper engineer Matthew Shlian transforms ordinary sheets of paper into riveting 3D paper sculptures
Eventually, Shlian’s predilection for creating geometric sculptures with paper caught the attention of one of his faculty advisers, Anne Currier. Upon seeing his interest about the craft, she began purchasing pop-up books for him to study. Shlian would reverse-engineer the pop-ups featured in the books. This served as a very pivotal point in his journey as a paper engineer and artist. In fact, Shlian shared that the experience has taught him to be more open-minded and relentlessly curious when thinking about new ways to create.
“My process is extremely varied from piece to piece. Often I start without a clear goal in mind, working within a series of limitations.”
Shlian has held and participated in hundreds of exhibits
Soon after graduating from New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University as a Bachelor of Fine Arts in 2002, his work entitled “Overspray” was featured by a magazine that featured stencil and street art in New York. He has been invited to hundreds of exhibitions all over the world. The artist has also successfully held solo exhibitions, and even launched a book that featured a collection of his kinetic, 3D paper sculptures.
His work has also been commissioned by loads of big names in various industries
Due to the unique and captivating appeal of his work, many big industry names have tapped Shlian to create something for them. Shlian has created sculptures for Apple, P&G, Herman Miller, and even the United States mint. In addition, he has also created pieces for LEVI’s, SUPREME, and the Queen of Jordan. He even got to work with scientists at the University of Michigan!
“I use my engineering skills to create kinetic sculpture which have led to collaborations with scientists at University of Michigan. We work on the nanoscale, translating paper sculptures to micro folds. Our investigations extend to visualizing cellular division and solar cell development.”
His 3D paper sculptures are inspired by the most interesting things
Every artist has their muse. Many take inspiration from nature, like miniature paper craft artist Tianna Lissova, who creates adorable yet incredibly detailed potted plants and bouquets of flowers. After all, with all the unique beauty growing all around us, it would hard to not be inspired by nature’s wonders.
For Shlian’s 3D paper sculptures, he shared that he takes special interest in solar cell design, protein misfolding, Islamic tile patterning, systematic drawing, architecture, biomimetics, and music. And aside from these minute yet intricate patterns, Shlian also looks for inspiration from musicians, performers, writers, visual artists, producers, and other makers and thinkers.
Many of these paper sculptures resemble dragon scales
Shlia doesn’t just use ordinary paper you’d find at your local stationery shop to make his extraordinary 3D paper sculptures. Instead he uses premium paper like acid-free archival paper from Neenah Paper for his white-colored works. Then, when he decides to create something colorful, he’ll work with sheets from Canson and Colorplan. Shlian is careful when it comes to choosing the paper and glue that go into his sculptures. With all these precautions in place, Shlian considers something else as a threat to his works’ quality:
“Everything I make is create is made with acid-free archival papers and glue. They will not yellow in the sun or fade over time. Their biggest enemy is dust and curious fingers. People always want to touch it!”
The 3D paper sculptures will stand the test of time as long as you take care of them properly
This isn’t a snooty request on his part. In fact, if you’ve ever attended an art show, you’ve probably encountered this forewarning. This isn’t just because the artist or gallery doesn’t want you leaving your fingerprints on a piece (but that’s part of it). Touching will transfer dirt particles, sweet and bodily oils that may damage the work in the long run, and since this isn’t obvious to the naked eye, it’s best to avoid it entirely! The artist recommends having the 3D paper sculptures placed in a shadowbox-type frame to keep it safe from being touched.
Collectors interested in acquiring 3D paper sculptures by Matthew Shlian can get in touch with the artist by filling out his contact page at his website. He also released a book entitled ‘Unfolding’ – get it on Amazon.