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Li Hongbo’s Stunning, Stretchable Paper Sculptures

Picture of Emily Brown
Emily Brown
Updated: 4 August 2017
Li Hongbo is a former editor who now works as an artist and designer, creating three-dimensional shapes through his skilled manipulation of sheets of paper. Hongbo is known for his unconventional figurative sculptures made from thousands of paper sheets that twist and elongate in many directions. Many of his stunning sculptures take months to complete and are so intricate they will have even the most skilled artists in a trance.

Li Hongbo was born in 1974 in the Chinese province of Jilin, and he now lives and works in Beijing. In 1996, he began studying a BA Degree in Fine Arts at Jilin Normal University. In 2010 he went on to study a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Experimental Art in Beijing’s Central Academy of Fine Arts, and in 2011 he studied for an MFA in Folk Art at the same institution.

Li Hongbo has spoken about his inspiration to become an artist, saying when he was younger he had picked up painting as a hobby. “I also always liked to add little paintings that I shouldn’t have in my textbooks. The hobby stayed with me for many years. Ultimately, I was lucky enough to enter into art school to study art, and I was able find a job pursuing my hobby after I graduated.” Li Hongbo’s art pieces are distinct in the way they are created using unique techniques with two simple base materials, paper and glue.

Li Hongbo observed that honeycomb paper is prevalent in various iterations of Chinese folk art, from children’s toys to festive decorations. His fascination with honeycomb paper continued as he discovered how simply it is made and the amazing flexibility, resilience and strength of the paper once it is built into layers of hexagonal cubes.

He elaborates on the medium and technique behind his stunning sculptures, saying, “I layer sheets of paper one by one, attaching each with glue at specific points to create a honeycomb pattern. Each sheet is glued individually by hand until I’ve created a small block. I use a woodworking saw to create the initial cuts, discarding excess paper and reducing the area of the block into the form I’m striving for. As the saw becomes impractical for cutting, I switch to an angle grinder which allows me to achieve greater detail and I put the finishing touches on the sculpture with sandpaper.”

Hongbo creates a fascinating and unpredictable element in his paper sculptures as they stretch infinitely in many ways. Initially inspired by the tradition and the ubiquity that paper embodies, Hongbo plays with its appearance and connotations in order to create static sculptures that transform into unpredictable images, accentuating the difference between restriction and freedom. Each of his sculptures consist of approximately 7,000 to 8,000 sheets of white paper stacked on top of each other and glued manually in a honeycomb structure, allowing the finished sculptures complete flexibility.

Hongbo talks about his Chinese heritage and the culture of his country saying, “there is a Chinese saying, ‘life is as fragile as paper,’ which has made a deep impact on me. Due to my past jobs, I have become very familiar with paper. This revealed to me the importance of paper to both society and individuals and it also allowed me to explore paper’s hidden, broad expanse of uses.”

He continues on regarding the inspiration and force that drives the creation of his pieces, saying “my creations are the result of my thought process, and I hope viewers will enjoy what I create. However, if you were to ask me about my particular thought process, I would say that I pay attention to everybody in my life, and every little thing that surrounds me and because of that my work is closely connected to daily life.”

Li Hongbo’s stretchable sculptures challenge our perceptions and invite us to experience artwork in an exciting and revolutionary new way. His sculptures and their playful mobility are truly amazing, and his ability to awe an audience with art pieces made entirely of common paper is inspiring. Hongbo hopes that his unusual attachment to paper will awaken viewers to what captivates his own imagination, “the endless possibilities of paper.”

 

Courtesy of Klein Sun Gallery, © Li Hongbo
Courtesy of Klein Sun Gallery, © Li Hongbo
Courtesy of Klein Sun Gallery, © Li Hongbo
Courtesy of Klein Sun Gallery, © Li Hongbo
Courtesy of Klein Sun Gallery, © Li Hongbo
Courtesy of Klein Sun Gallery, © Li Hongbo
Courtesy of Klein Sun Gallery, © Li Hongbo
Courtesy of Klein Sun Gallery, © Li Hongbo