Matt Shlian – Interview

When I’m faced with artworks of an extreme complexity, asking a little madness mixed with technique and patience, I can only admire. It’s that kind of feeling I had in discovering the work of Matthew Shlian/ Quand je suis confronté à des oeuvres d’une extrème complexités, demandant un peu de folie mêlée à la technique et la patience, je ne peux qu’être admiratif. C’est ce genre de ressenti que j’eus en découvrant les travaux de Matthew Shlian.


Hi Matt, how are you ?
I’m well.

Tell us more about you. Who are you ?
I am a designer, Artist and Paper Engineer.  My work is rooted in print media, book arts, and commercial design, though I now collaborate with scientist and researches using paper folding as a means to understand structures at a micro level. I teach at the University of Michigan, run a studio in Ann Arbor and do design and commission work for Apple, P&G, Ghostly Int. and a few hospitals.

How do you start to create that kind of 3d paper sculpture works ?
I began as an undergrad at Alfred University.  I originally went to school for ceramics, but realized early on that I was interested in everything. I studied, glass, painting, performance, sound and by the end I had a dual major in ceramics and print media.  I wasn’t making traditional print or ceramic work at that point.  Instead I would create large digital prints and using a series of cut scores and creases create large page pop up spreads.  I was making 4 foot v-folds or strut folds.  I really had no idea what I was doing.  I wanted the work to be interactive and for the image to relate to the folds.  I loved the immediacy of paper as a medium.  I also loved the geometry. Figuring out the pieces was like solving a puzzle.  I’m a highly visual person; I have to see something to make sense of it.  One of my faculty advisers, Anne Currier, started buying me pop-up books and I started dissecting them and figuring out how they worked.  It took off from there.

How do you process in your work ?
My process is extremely varied from piece to piece.  Often I start without a clear goal in mind, working within a series of limitations. For example on one piece I’ll only use curved folds, or make my lines this length or that angle etc.  Other times I being with an idea for movement and try to achieve that shape or form somehow.  Along the way something usually goes wrong and a mistake becomes more interesting than the original idea and I work with that instead.  I’d say my starting point is curiosity; I have to make the work in order to understand it.  If I can completely visualize my final result I have no reason to make it- I need to be surprised.

What inspires and influences you ?
I draw inspiration from musicians, performers, writers, artists, producers… Folks like Brian Eno, Matthew Goulish and Goat Island, El-P, Daniel Libeskind, Dondi White, Christian Marclay, Ren Weschler, Buckminster Fuller, George Hrycun, Stephan Sagmeister, Edward R. Tufte, etc.  On the paper scene, I’m in love with Lothar Meggendorfer, Vojtech Kubasta, and Noriko Ambe.

I remember, I saw a video from the Michigan Daily with you explaining your work and it was really amazing!
When I saw some of your art pieces it remind me the work of Jen Stark or Tokujin Yoshioka…
What’s means that medium (paper) for you?
There is immediacy to paper.  You may take a sheet and begin to work, or plan something out methodically.  It is a medium with a memory and one with which you can naturally create a dialogue.

Is there something special you want to do in your work soon?
Go big.

Some projects to come ?
A few collaborations are in the works.  I’m planning a new series for Ghostly.  I’m working on two NSF Grants that I hope receive funding.

Something to add ?
More work at


/ Interview : Dennis Moya, january 2012.


> Matt

/ Portrait taken from the “Paper Cuts” video  / Michigan Daily.
/ All works are © Matt Shlian.