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Paris-based artists turn toilet paper rolls into treasured works of art

Ever wondered how to reuse toilet paper rolls, instead of simply discarding them? Well, Paris-based artists Anastassia Elias and Junior Fritz Jacquet have found creative ways to transform them into whimsical miniature universes and captivating face masks.

From a mother and child observing giraffes at the zoo and rock climbers scaling a mountain, to couples dancing and lionesses jumping through hoops in a circus, Anastassia’s multi-layered, three-dimensional Rouleaux dioramas reproduce scenes from nature and everyday life, which, when backlit, draw your eye, as the characters and objects are brought to life.

As for Junior, who has been passionate about paper from an early age, folding and crumpling techniques are innovated to create objects inspired by the traditional art of origami – resulting in
 a diverse collection of masks presenting intriguing faces of fictional characters.

Anastassia Elias

A self-taught illustrator, painter and collage artist, Anastassia creates narrative artworks that always tell a story, whatever the medium. Drawing in black ink, she uses a pen and her fingers, with her fingerprints forming gradations of grey
 and shadows. For her torn collages, she manipulates pages and fragments ripped from magazines, packaging and other printed paper, starting with large pieces of paper and progressing to smaller pieces to focus on the details.

Anastassia Elias

In her mixed media collage experimentations, some
are cut with scissors and a box cutter and some feature gouache or black ink.

In her ongoing Rouleaux series, she creates minuscule scenes inside toilet rolls by carefully affixing tiny paper cutouts to the inner surfaces at varying depths, using manicure scissors, a box cutter, glue and tweezers. She shines a light through them to form shadows and silhouettes. The paper shapes are in the same colour as the toilet roll to give the illusion that they are part of the roll, with each artwork requiring two to three hours to craft. In her creative process, coming up with a concept takes the most time, while the realisation of the piece takes the least.

She says: “I sometimes have fun reclaiming waste objects. What I like about recycling is its ability to
fuel creativity. You have in your hands an object you are about to throw away, or you discover on a sidewalk, next to a garbage can, something that nobody wants. You look at this object and suddenly an idea pops into your head, or at least you have an intuition.

“One day my eyes fell 
on an empty toilet paper 
roll. I wondered if I could do something with it. Thus the Rouleaux series began. This work is inspired by everyday life, by the people who surround me, by the cities I visit, by the movies I watch... In other words, I am inspired by my environment.

Materials used in the making of paper art. 

“As often when I’m working, I completed the first roll at night. Once I’d finished it, I moved it towards my desk lamp and then discovered a play of shadows inside. The light passing through the 
roll created effects I didn’t expect... It’s important to
 me that the elements do not encroach on one another
 and that the scene captures the light in the best possible way. Not all subjects can be represented in a roll. The scene must be concentrated, while spread across the length of the roll with its different elements. The more small elements, the better the effect.”

Born in 1976 in eastern Russia and raised in the Ukraine, Anastassia studied French language and linguistics then journalism at university, before moving to France in 2001, where she started working full-time as a book illustrator. She has exhibited in France, Italy, Portugal, Hong Kong and Singapore,
 and her works have been so well-received that she even published Rouleaux, an art book featuring 67 of her paper sculptures made between 2009 and 2012 – through more than 150 photos and 28 sketches.

She states: “I believe that the role of an artist is to 
engage the viewer, to provoke a reaction, a thought, an emotion. In any case, that’s my goal. As for my message, most often I don’t aim to convey one – it’s useless sometimes. Each
 person perceives things according to his or her personal experience.” She is working on 32 illustrations 
in gouache and acrylic representing imaginary bank notes for a book of poems
by David Dumortier entitled Achete, Achete, Achete, which will be published by Editions Motus in France this year.

Junior Fritz Jacquet

Junior was facing a bleak future as a teenager in a group home, after encountering problems with the law. One day in a library in Saint-Ouen, he began folding paper out of boredom, and became captivated by the art of origami. This technique was born in the 2nd century in China shortly after the invention of paper, before being imported to Japan then Europe.

“I grew up in an environment where there was no space for art,” he notes. “I started to become interested in origami at the age of 14. It was a very prompt interaction with origami, and I understood quickly that you could go far, starting from only a single sheet of paper.

“I consider myself to be someone who likes to feel close to the material. I use it as a means of expression to develop and give shape to experiences, to tell the beginning of a story. Then it is up to each and every one to continue it. There is, I think, a large dreamlike element to the paper characters and the objects that I create.”

Having learnt the art of paper-folding in Paris, the self-taught artist is today influenced by the smell, texture, thickness and possibilities of paper, and his work tells stories through different types of this most ordinary of materials. Whether using standard paper, wax paper, silk paper, toilet paper rolls or cardboard, he draws inspiration from his surroundings – such as a small plant fighting for life.

Using only his fingers 
as tools, he picks up a piece
 of paper – which may be of different colours and sizes – and begins folding, crumpling, creasing and modelling, always abiding by the principles of origami: one sheet, in one piece, no gluing and no adding on.
The piece of paper begins to take shape, giving birth to faces, bodies and movements, and interacts with light, underlining tired eyes in masks or the fragility of a coral flower.

Junior Fritz Jacquet

Junior says: “My love
 for nature is an important influence. Certainly because it is closely linked to paper, the basic material of my work. Vegetal, full of life, varied, rich and flourishing, nature is the very image of paper; it can be just as flexible, malleable and infinite as it is unexpected and surprising when you manipulate it. Paper
is a material as surprising in its fragility as it is complex in its properties like weight, texture, elasticity, capacity to absorb light, colours and even humidity, as well as its memory when folded or crumpled.”

Originating in 1997, Junior’s masks are hand-sculpted out of a single toilet paper roll using original folding technique s
he developed himself, which
is then coated with natural pigments and lacquer. No glue or extra paper has been added. Each requires three or four hours to create, and their highly expressive faces remind you of close-up portraits, drawing you in to their stories and realities.

Representations of joy, sorrow, anger or fatigue, they reflect real human emotions and states of mind. He comments:
“I am aware that each paper has its own ‘personality’, properties and sensitivity. I choose the paper depending on the type
 of model I would like to make. For example, my masks, which are created from toilet paper rolls, are the result of more than five years of research. I first concentrate on the construction of the eyes, then the nose,
the mouth and the general expression.”

Born in 1979 in Haiti where he spent the early years of his life, Junior arrived in France with his two sisters seven years later, where they were reunited with their parents. In 1994,
 he took a beginner’s class in paper-folding that allowed him to become aware of his abilities in this art, until then practised with a technique that his instinct dictated. That led him to meet the talented Vincent Floderer in 1999, who accompanied him in his evolution and became
 his mentor, and with whom he founded Crimp (International Research Centre for Folded Sculptures) a year later, where he acquired a critical perspective and rigour in his creative work.

In 2013, the jury of the 
Living Treasures of Arts and Crafts of France awarded him a special mention. He participates annually in the Masters
 of Origami, a prestigious international encounter of origami virtuosos, and his works may be found in the permanent collections of the two most important temples of paper - folding and origami in the world: Gallery Origami House in Tokyo, Japan, and Mingei International Museum in San Diego, USA.

Junior states: “I don’t like
 to force paper to follow my technique. I prefer to adapt my technique to paper. In my work, experimentation with paper and research are compulsory. For my masks, I take the time to explore the toilet paper roll.

“The experience of folding this type of material is very interesting because my folding technique is forced to adapt
to the cardboard, as it is too resistant to be able to do what you want with it. With each modification of the cardboard, you are witnessing the creation of a new character.”

Ever the inquisitive artist, Junior creates a universe out of paper for his miniature figures. His pieces tell an ongoing story of the lives these paper figures lead, reflecting the depth of detail that exists within Junior’s imagination too.

He adds: “My work 
offers a gateway towards the imagination, a voyage that hasn’t reached its conclusion. As a result, to touch my audiences, 
I consider that the paper that 
I use and transform is just as important as my experiences and sensibilities. Paper carries its own universe that I must listen to.”

Written by Y-Jean Mun-Delsalle. 

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