Ethereal Paper Sculpture Figures by Tian Shi

As I told Tian Shi when I looked at his paper art for the first time, I've never seen anything like it. He is an artist in Brussels, Belgium who works with Japanese washi to create seemingly dreamlike dimensional paper figures in settings that harken back to olden times.


white paper sculpture of young girl walking on tightrope with one arm outstretched and the other holding a parasol

I asked Tian Shi to tell us about his career, including what prompted him to begin making paper sculptures, as well as his process:
"At the beginning of my artistic career, I was known in Italy as a draftsman. I wanted to put a little material on the paper - earth, wire, wax - in order to bring the world into the space of my drawings."
amorphous all-white paper sculpture young woman with head tilted back smelling paper flower 
"Little by little, I wanted them to interact with this material on the sheet of paper, and quite naturally I started to give a bit of dimension to my drawings. Over time they have somehow come out of the space of the sheet of paper to become paper sculptures permanently."

paper sculpture of white cat with mouse on its back, positioned on windowsill 
"Two of the first people who believed in this evolution of my art were Angela Di Bello of Agora Gallery in Chelsea, New York and Fabio Fornaciai of Galeria Tornabuoni in Florence. The latter had sold my drawings since the beginning of my career."
all-yellow paper sculpture of young angel holding fingers of one hand to lips 
"It is through my desire to bring the world into my works that I stage the sculptures as choreographies, seeking to tell little stories in the space where they are exhibited, rather than just showing the statues on pedestals like store mannequins. Instead of a sculptor, I define myself as a choreographer of the motionless."
historical, high ceiling room contains mobile of all-white paper sculpture angels circling above writing desk on which an open book and paper flowers are placed 

Via Instagram, Tian Shi elaborated on poeticizing the space where his works are exhibited. "For example, the pages of a book metamorphose into birds, an egg gives birth to a dancer, cats in love try to reach the moon, cross a book, or play tightrope walkers in a bookstore selling old books where fairies are born in the heart of some improbable flowers... with the aim of making life more beautiful and bearable."
paper sculpture of young woman holding paper sculpture child 
"Each sculpture starts as a drawing. To give it dimension, I use very fine Japanese washi paper with a visible fiber. I moisten the washi by spraying it with glue and then create the shape I want. Once dry, the paper keeps the shape."

paper sculpture head of smiling womanblurry violet-toned photograph of slightly smiling woman paper sculpture


Tian Shi describes anthotype photography for which he relies on blueberries and watercolor paper as the ideal medium to document his washi sculptures. He says the soft violet color complements the fragility of paper. 

paper sculpture girl with bubble blower positioned next to small paper sculpture angel

"I sign my works with the artist name TIAN SHI, which in Chinese means 'the angel' and not with my real name because of a poem by Victor Hugo in which I recognized myself."

paper sculpture girl walking on tightrope holding parasol followed by cat paper sculpture, also on tightrope

Tian Shi regularly exhibits in Belgium. His art has also been shown in Firenze, Italy, New York City, and in Burnie, Australia at Paper off Skin, an international exhibition devoted to works in paper.


man bending from waist to look closely at small paper sculpture angel

Tian Shi


Keep up to date with Tian Shi's newest art and exhibitions via Instagram where he is @tianshiwashibuto or on Facebook


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Ann Martin
Ann Martin

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