Li Hongbo is a Chinese artist whose creations look, at first glance, like smart sculptures made from plaster or porcelain.
But get a little bit closer – touch them even – and you will see that all is not what it seems. For these artworks are in fact made from thousands of sheets of paper painstakingly cut, folded and glued together, which Li Hongbo then carves as if he was sculpting a block of wood.
What initially looks like a sculpture of a log, a stone, a bust – or even a gun – can be picked up and flexed, with its identity metamorphosed into something different and original each time.
“My sculptures can move, stretch, twist and bend, contract… anything,” says the Beijing-based artist.
This skull might look like an historical artefact, or a skull imitation made from plaster. But you can stretch it in your hands – quite unsettling to witness, especially if you are not expecting it.
Li Hongbo’s interest in paper began while he worked as a book editor and publisher. When it came to designing the books, he had to take the type paper into consideration each time.
“I needed to understand its characteristics, its style and its durability,” he says.
Li Hongbo’s Chinese roots also play an important part in his chosen artistic medium. His creations draw from the ‘honeycomb’ fold design of paper gourds, traditional Chinese decorations hung during weddings and celebrations.
“The paper gourd craft has existed in China for a long time. It has a festive quality,” he says. “For me, this was the best method I could use to connect paper. If you close it, it is very small. Open it and it is very big. So it has a lot of possibilities.”
The sculptures can take several months to make and Li Hongbo goes over every detail to ensure there are no errors, taking into account the sculptures’ depth, width, mass and centre. The centre is especially important – if it is off, the flexible structure can tip over.
In this video below, Li Hongbo reveals his motivation and technique, explaining how he brushes glue on to the paper, takes it off, puts another sheet on and lets it gradually stack up:
And in this video below, Dominik Mersch gives a nice insight into Li Hongbo’s ‘Pure White Paper’ exhibition at his Sydney gallery at the end of 2012 which featured, among others, a large-scale model of a young man, head to toe, made from 20,000 sheets of paper.
“In my art, I like using subjects that we often see: Quite ordinary, quite natural. That way, they are more familiar,” says Li Hongbo.
“At first you don’t think they could possibly move. But when you open it or provoke it, you discover a change. This transformation might have a greater impact.”
It certainly does, and if you’d like to stay up to date with Li Hongbo’s exhibitions and news, please visit his Facebook page.