Paper Magic

Of all the talented creative artists who are our friends here Suhail is amongst the most original.  He and his wife Shasha were born and grew up in India.  They both trained in design and Suhail held a prestigious post designing motorbikes for a well-known company.  In 1999 they decided to relocate to France, where they started again from scratch, both building up successful careers.  But after almost two decades as design professionals it was time for another move.  Suhail was abroad when Shasha found a house on the outskirts of Lamastre which she was convinced would be perfect for them. She phoned Suhail in Calcutta and in one conversation, based on ‘gut feeling’, it was decided that they were moving to the Ardèche.  They have now been here for nearly ten years and have converted their property into a wonderfully airy home, which has great views over the town and incorporates a studio for each of them.

It was in Suhail’s studio that we recently gave a concert with Carla.

Carla rehearsing for the concert
Carla in rehearsal

They are both now full-time artists: Shasha creates beautiful work in batik and Suhail has returned to his childhood love of paper. 

He says “My first encounter with paper was in Bombay, where as a child I made my own toys out of discarded packaging.  Now my perception of paper (has) evolved from being an accompanying tool to the means to transform ideas into an art form with pronounced aesthetic qualities . . . “

It’s very hard to describe his amazing sculptures or to get an idea of the phenomenal amount of minute precision work, and attention to detail which it takes to create them.  Here are a few examples. 

From his “Circle” collection, we were fortunate enough to see ‘Dome’ in situ during his 2017 exhibition in Jaillons in the Drôme.

This monumental piece measures 3m by 3m and is composed of 13 concentric circles of diminishing radius, suspended from their apex. It took 700 hours of work to make and a whole day to erect.  As you pass beneath or around it the intricate fretwork constantly changes, like a giant white kaleidoscope, creating innumerable shapes, patterns and sensations.

For Suhail “white is, more than a simple colour, a way of perceiving things.  Silent, still, pure and simple, white seems to lead us away from sensorial chaos.  White can signify a beginning and an end, or be the continuum in between.”

He has also made magnificent giant mobiles, which encapsulate his view that: “it’s about Light and Air.  The intangible.  Giving physical form to the fleeting moment of a scene, an emotion or imagination, using an ephemeral material”.

Honesty mobile by Suhail

And he has created a wonderful “Genus” collection of fish, birds, turtles and fantastical skeletons.

Venus Comb paper sculpture by Suhail
Venus Comb

“I enjoy working in white paper. It speaks volumes where words fail me.”

Mandala by Suhail
Mandala

Everything is hand-cut with a scalpel, using different qualities and thicknesses of paper.  Almost incredibly, Suhail does not use computer technology in any of his work.

“Paper has been the bearer of culture through time. Artists, writers, poets, lawmakers, clerics, businessmen, financial institutions and many, many more have their professions and lives inextricably entwined with it. It was considered valuable until the end of the 18th century when the industrial revolution transformed its perception by bringing ready availability in all forms to the common man. The overly careless way in which paper is used today is symbolic of our perception of this fine, noble and versatile material”.

Suhail regularly exhibits in Brussels and Geneva. To see a complete range of his work, click here:

With a background in industrial design and a fascination with aeronautical engineering he branched in another parallel direction in 2014 when he realised a lifelong dream of creating a paper sculpture of the iconic Spitfire. 

Why depict the aircraft as just a framework? Firstly, this isn’t supposed to be a scale model replica: it’s more an artistic representation, a sculpture. …..  Several inspirations guided me simultaneously. One was the drawing itself …. being a linear representation (it) had a sparse, pure quality to it.

For the engineers amongst our readers – and I know that there are some – here’s a link to Suhail’s detailed explanation of his fascination (or in his words, obsession) with the Spitfire and how he created his paper sculpture. click here

This in turn led him into the most extraordinary adventure –  the creation of a full-scale version in steel of his ‘paper wings’ in collaboration with KMF Precision Sheet Metal of Stoke on Trent.

This video explains the whole project much better than I could and is definitely worth 10 minutes of your time!

Once completed, ‘Vera’ was installed in the Potteries Museum in Stoke, which honours R J Mitchell, the plane’s designer and son of the city, whilst the gallery’s original Spitfire undergoes restoration.  Suhail’s project continues, with plans to construct further replicas of his paper sculpture which will be on permanent view in public spaces and celebrate the achievements of the designers and creators of this most evocative of aeroplanes.

The Steel Spitfire
The Steel Spitfire

He is also in discussions with the Imperial War Museum at Duxford and would love to have a Spitfire in place there for the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Britain. 

Meanwhile he has constructed a paper Harrier, complete with rotating parts, which takes up the whole end of his immaculate studio.

 ‘The paper jet engine is a choreography of moving parts.  Devoid of armament and national markings, (the sculpture) celebrates the human genius that redefined what it means to fly’.

But his love of the natural world and fascination with its shapes, forms and emotions still continues.  A commission for a shoal of his paper fish will soon be departing for Australia, and his abstract wall lighting sculptures adorn the walls.  I would just love to have one of them hanging in our barn!

Cathedral

Let’s give Suhail the last word:  ‘Paper is the extra-ordinary in the ordinary’

All quotations and most images taken from Suhail Shaikh, “Paper Sculpture” catalogue and papermywings blogspot, with permission.

6 thoughts on “Paper Magic

  1. Dear Kate, I am honoured!… and humbled! Thank you so much for this article that beautifully packages my journey that has brought me to this point where I express my thoughts and ideas through paper today. I have always believed that an artist is incomplete without the Spectator, who provides the essential different Perspective of the work ( be it music, poetry, visual..). This is what adds to the Experience where the object and individuals are not that important any more, but the core Idea is, and Connections created around the idea bind us all together in some way. Your article promotes that synergy! Wonderful, thank you!

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