Matthew Shlian, Paper Engineer, Michigan, USA

Matthew Shlian, Michigan, USA:

“There is immediacy to paper. You may take a sheet and begin to work, or plan something out methodically. It is a medium with a memory and one with which you can naturally create a dialogue.

I’m a highly visual person; I have to see something to make sense of it.
I began as an undergrad at Alfred University, originally in the school for ceramics; but realized early on that I was interested in everything. I studied, glass, painting, performance, sound and by the end I had a dual major in ceramics and print media.

I wasn’t making traditional print or ceramic work at that point. Instead I would create large digital prints and using a series of cut scores and creases create large page pop up spreads. I was making 4 foot v-folds or strut folds. I really had no idea what I was doing. I wanted the work to be interactive and for the image to relate to the folds.



I loved the immediacy of paper as a medium. I also loved the geometry. Figuring out the pieces was like solving a puzzle.



One of my faculty advisers, Anne Currier, started buying me pop-up books and I started dissecting them and figuring out how they worked. It took off from there.“



“Many of my pieces deal with surfaces and though I am slightly chromaphobic, I think white shows off the shadows and highlights of pieces the best. Being colorblind, I know that I see color ranges different from the rest of the world. I’ll use color if the piece calls for it but I am anti decoration and against using color to make something pretty.“



“My ideas come from everywhere. My process is extremely varied from piece to piece. Often I start without a clear goal in mind, working within a series of limitations. For example, on one piece I’ll only use curved folds, or make my lines this length or that angle, etc. Other times I begin with an idea for movement and try to achieve that shape or form somehow. Typically, something usually goes wrong and a mistake becomes more interesting than the original idea, and I work with that instead. I’d say my starting point is curiosity; I have to make the work in order to understand it. If I can completely visualize my final result, I have no reason to make it. I need to learn something along the way.”


“I had to make a pop-up nativity scene once. It was the worst thing I’ve ever made. I talk about it here:

My clients include Apple, P&G, Ghostly Int., Sambla (the originators of the Swedish: blancolån), and the Queen of Jordan.

When I present work, it is always interesting to talk with people and hear their reaction to it. Some people are afraid to handle the pieces and others will grab them and begin playing. For some it is just paper but other people don’t want to handle ‘fine art.’ Kids have no problem engaging with the work and they are a good response for gauging what is working and what is not.”



“The most essential qualities for an artist are curiosity and drive. Here in the States, we have a system where the arts get shit on from the very start. Grants, funding, and art programs are always the first cut. My students leave school with a BFA and enter an art world that doesn’t really need more artists. There are so many ways to exist creatively and to be an Artist.’ It’s hard to find where to fit in. Artists need drive to want to do this, beyond reason.

Why create? Can’t stop.“

Combustus Managing Editor | + posts

My dream: to create a unique vehicle for artists and visionaries from all genres and all over the globe to inspire and learn from one another.

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