The innate, versatile qualities of papier mache lie in the fact that it is a recycled material. Its substance emanates finesse and simplicity, although composed of modest materials – yet with complex treatment it can be taken to the other extreme, when it is rendered strong but lightweight. It is a material of subtle and surprising contradictions.
Ever since 1988, during my days studying Fine Art at Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, I have been sculpting with papier mache and have used it in conservation projects. It was invented by the Chinese as a way to re-use paper, which in the second century AD was rare and therefore expensive. In the late eighteenth century its production was one of the most important crafts in Central England, with Birmingham being a major centre of production. I am unashamedly proud of this fact, as I was born in the Midlands – my parents were both ceramicists, who met in The Potteries.
Nowadays, something made from papier mache is presumed to be non-precious and possibly unrefined or artless. I am drawn to this commonplace medium for that very reason – the notion that the familiar, freely accessible things which we use, or which we do, on a daily basis are as significant and meaningful as the rare and extraordinary.
I am also mindful of the fact that paper needs to be recognised as a precious commodity once again, as excessive consumption of it is having devastating effects on the sustainability of forest resources: trees, habitats, species and water. This has influenced the way that I work: placing more value on the fragile aspect of paper, I use it considerately.