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Posts Tagged ‘Calvin Nicholls’

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Photo: Calvin Nicholls
Wilson’s Bird of Paradise rendered in paper.

Some people seem to make a beeline straight from childhood to the work that will define them. People like Mozart, for example. Others have a long, circuitous route to greatness. Malvolio weighs in on the puzzle in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night: “some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.”

Pat Leonard writes at Living Bird that Calvin Nicholls came to his amazingly great art a bit by accident.

“The daily commute to his attic studio is short and steep. The road to success for Canadian artist Calvin Nicholls has been much longer. He’s spent the last 30 years perfecting an unusual art form that is all about light, shadow, shape—and illusion. Nicholls is a paper sculptor who creates fantastically detailed birds and other animals that seem to leap, lean, or flutter straight out of their frames. His career evolved from drawing, model-making, sculpting, photography, and periodic doses of serendipity.

“ ‘It’s so clear in my mind—it was 1983,’ says Nicholls. ‘I had my own graphic design studio in Toronto. I met a fellow who was manipulating paper to produce areas of highlight and shadow to create the feeling of depth in two dimensions. We worked on a restaurant menu concept together and I could see the potential in this technique. I got playing with paper sculpture myself and it was just so much fun.’

“At first, Nicholls created his sculptures as a method for creating his final product, a photograph that could surprise viewers by seeming three dimensional. The technique turned out to be a hit when Nicholls introduced it to some of his clients. He showed photographic prints of his work in an art show in Ontario in 1990, but he also wound up selling sculptures of a Snowy Owl and Mallard as well.

“ ‘I was focused on the prints and trying to make two dimensions look like three,’ Nicholls says. ‘Then clients would say, so where’s the artwork? And I thought, yikes—I never even thought about displaying the artwork! I still marvel that I didn’t know then that the original artwork could be as interesting as the illusion created in the prints with sophisticated studio lighting.’

“Switching focus to the original artwork meant reducing the depth of his sculptures so they could be framed and so the jumble of foam core supports and toothpicks underneath didn’t show when the piece was viewed from an angle. It took a lot of time and experimentation. But the end result is an uncanny illusion of depth from layers of paper that are only about an inch thick. …

‘What makes the sculptures work is thinking about anatomy and how [feathers] flow a certain way on the musculoskeletal structure,’ says Nicholls. ‘I have to get a sense of the skeleton and the muscles and what they do in certain gestures.’ ”

Read more and see the great pictures at Living Bird, here.

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