Li Hongbo's paper sculptures stretch the imagination

Thu Jan 23, 2014 4:30am EST
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By Jimmy Jian and Maxim Duncan

BEIJING (Reuters) - The line of white, classical busts in Li Hongbo's dusty Beijing studio could be used for drawing practice in any art classroom in the world. That is until the Chinese artist places his hands on one and lifts gently.

What had looked exactly like solid plaster is transformed into an amorphous worm. A Roman soldier warps like taffy. A pretty English maid rises abruptly like a ghost before slipping back into place as if nothing had happened.

Neither plaster nor clay, the statues are concertinas of thousands upon thousands of fine pieces of paper.

"At the beginning, I discovered the flexible nature of paper through Chinese paper toys and paper lanterns," Li, 38, told Reuters on a freezing day in his suburban workshop.

"Later, I used this principle to make a gun," he said, casually inverting a crude paper pistol into an elegant fan.

"A gun is solid, used for killing, but I turned it into a tool for play or decoration. In this way, it lost both the form of a gun and the culture inherent to a gun. It became a game."

Li, who is showcasing some of his recent work at a New York gallery until early March, pastes glue in narrow strips across pieces of paper, which he stacks to the desired height. A head requires more than 5,000 layers. He then cuts, chisels and sands the large block as if it were a piece of soft stone.

Born into a simple farming family, Li said he had always loved paper, invented in ancient China. Beyond his sculptures, he has spent six years producing a collection of books recording more than 1,000 years of Buddhist art on paper.   Continued...

A combination picture shows Chinese artist Li Hongbo playing with a paper sculpture of gun, made of 300 pieces of paper, at his studio on the outskirts of Beijing, January 20, 2014. REUTERS/Jason Lee