Art is for everyone. Though busy lives advancing the majority of us further away from our early experiences with it unfortunately exists, the beginnings of our worlds held creativity first and the other responsibilities second. Our early years, peppered with crayons and washable glues and play-dohs, provide the seeds some of us continue to sew, with materials blooming into worlds and materials far reaching. Others of us may not feel the urge to create as much as appreciate, yet it is this group of admirers (and their wallets) keeping institutions like MOMA (or Etsy, for that matter) afloat.
Many an artist may complain of cost when attempting to create; a grievance I, too, have used when attempting mediums like glassblowing or jewelry making. I can’t really, really imagine the money involved in learning photography before the digital age, when each picture cost real dollars (and hours) to botch.
While I respect the intricate nature of complicated materials or methods of creation (fashion design and film being two expensive modes I very much admire), it’s sometimes refreshing to discover an artist (or medium) that brings simplicity back into the picture.
What’s all this got to do with anything? I was recently introduced to the work of French artist Anastassia Elias, an artist who paints, collages, and, most impressively, makes dioramas from the cardboard tubes holding toilet paper together (I shall refrain from inserting a bidet joke here). She uses brown paper in the same tone as the cardboard roll, envisioning a scene like a hair salon or sporting event, and creates it with scissors, inserting the results into the tube with tweezers. The entire process takes “a few hour.” This being a French translation, I’m unclear if this means “about an hour” or “several hours.” Regardless, it’s a short process with serious results. Just searching her name on Google concludes with pages and pages of art fans who have discovered her unique talent.
What immediately grabbed me was the simplicity of the work. I don’t mean to take away from the skill and focus required to create such tiny scenes, for they are intoxicating and have the strange power to make you want to enter their fragile little brown worlds, jealous the cardboard fisherman isn’t your dad or that the full-figured laundress doesn’t explain if that gentle breeze in which her skirt blows comes from outside Nice or outside Savannah.
They invoke the viewer’s imagination in contrasting, almost jarring, ways. I’m immediately brought to the DIY feelings of a first grade Girl Scout meeting, having just been presented with scissors, glitter and construction paper, feeling invincible in the years before I realized these materials aren’t considered “arty” after their creator reaches a certain age. Separately, though, I think of folk ballads, songs with abstract stories about love gone wrong or heroes traveling afar, with enough detail provided for me to take the story and run wild with its next still-blank steps. Elias’s little tubes do the same. They feel simple.They look simple. However, they push their audience far past simple, provoking appreciation and motivation in a mere glance.
Having explored Elias’s work (which involves much more than the dioramas), I decided to see what else was out there in the “toilet paper” genre. The first of which was artist Beru Betto’s “Pixel Boy.” His blog even provides convenient step-by-step instructions on how to make one yourself.
Unlike the intricacy of Elias’s work, which only makes me feel as though I could do this, Betto’s and Teruya’s explorations into the world of t.p. seem more like a self-made reality ready for a wall near me in 2011. The idea that something cheap and insignificant can first awe, then invoke, and ultimately, motivate to get crafty, should serve as a reminder to anyone who began life elbow-deep in arts and crafts, only to graduate to calculators or cash registers and cubicles, that DIY didn’t always belong to an Amy Sedaris-loving elite, and projects don’t have to be insanely difficult to be beautiful.