Intricate Papercut Michelin Map Art

Joanathan Bessaci is a French-American artist in Washington D.C. whose paper cut art is composed of layers that he meticulously cuts by hand from vintage French Michelin maps from the 1920s-1970s.

paper cut tiger face composed of layered Michelin maps

Born and raised in Lyon, France, Joanathan studied applied arts and photography, and began his artistic career in his 20s as a painter. He was drawn to paper cutting after visiting a Chelsea gallery in New York City in 2004 where he was introduced to the art, however, it wasn't until 2012 that he began pursuing the interest seriously.

paper cut Michelin map anatomical heart

At that time, Joanathan visited Lyon where he rediscovered his collection of antique Michelin maps and began cutting portraits. He creates series of dancers, sports figures, animals, and well-known faces including celebrities and politicians. The average size of these pieces is 16 x 20 inches (40.6 x 51cm), but he sees his present work as sketches for larger pieces.

woman's head composed of paper cut layers of old maps in black frame

"I use old French Michelin maps because I like their color and texture but also because for me, they symbolize the roads that various family members have taken to get to France. My maternal grandmother emigrated to France from Vietnam and my paternal grandfather emigrated to France from Kabylia (Northern Algeria). I myself moved to Washington D.C. from Paris in August, 2016."

detail of paper cut map of head composed of layered Michelin maps

"I was also drawn to old French Michelin maps because I have been surrounded by objects like them since I was a child. Both my father and grandfather have stands in Lyon’s largest flea market and I spent long hours there as a child and adolescent. Many of the maps that I use come from Lyon’s flea markets and others throughout France."

detail of Michelin map paper cut torso

"I choose my maps very carefully and try to integrate their geography, including lakes, rivers, oceans, roads, highways, parks and city centers into my images to highlight certain visual elements. Each of my pieces is made up of multiple maps which I cut out and layer on top of each other in between pieces of glass to create depth and texture."

paper cut Michelin map portrait of couple standing side by side

"What I like the best about map cutting is the result... the possibility to create movement and other effects that the maps give me. I am always surprised to see that maps can create such a dynamic result. I like how the topography can resemble our bodies."

Joanathan Bessaci's art has been shown in Lyon, Grenoble, St. Etienne, Paris, Boston, Washington D.C. and Montreal galleries, and in the Outsider Art Fair in New York City. Follow his newest work on Instagram where he is @joanathan.bessaci.

Ann Martin
Ann Martin

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