Novedge: Tell us a bit about who you are and what you do.
Matthew Shlian: I'm Matthew Shlian and I fold paper.
Novedge: I have to say, I love your artist's statement. Can you talk more about how you draw inspiration from different disciplines?
Matthew Shlian: Everything is connected. When I was in high school we studied Math for 45 minutes, English for 45 minutes, Science for 45 minutes, Art if we were lucky- but we were never taught that there were connections between different things. The scientists I work with don't consider themselves artistic (because they can't draw). Drawing ability isn't a correlation for artistic skills- the people I work with are problem solving issues on a micro and nano scale- they are designers and have no idea. Cutting edge science and math are incredibly creative. I may work on a pattern or form for something research based one day and that pattern will show up in my studio practice later on. It won't function the same way but the genesis of the idea came from something outside Art.
Novedge: Pencil or computer? How do you plan your elaborate pieces?
Matthew Shlian: You need both. I use lots of tools to make my work- bone folders, x-acto knives, creasing tools, AutoCAD 2013 and a Graphtec fc4200-50 flatbed plotter cutter. CAD took forever to learn and now I'm really fast at it.
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 begin 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.
Novedge: What is the Eight Emperors?
Matthew Shlian:Eight Emperors is a site that Thea Eck and I started last year. It's an online shop that sells our smaller pieces meant to be given as gifts. We have a subscription series that we launched earlier this year that people have really gravitated towards. It's 4 new pieces sent out along the course of a year.
Novedge: What is a recent project that you worked on?
Matthew Shlian: The last big project we worked on was for Levi's a few months back. We were invited to design a large piece for their flagship store window.
Novedge: You have worked with some big names, including Apple and Queen Rania of Jordan: what have you learned in the process?
Matthew Shlian: I'm not sure what I learned from those two collaborations specifically- each project if it is successful teaches me something new or opens up new possibilities. The designs I did for apple were super exciting to make- and working with their ID team was a blast. I think the pieces are still a few years away from being feasible but apple understood the importance of working with people that think differently. Showing their team how to use paper to create volumetric form was incredible and made them think with their hands. There's so much already written about their design aesthetic but it is true that design is paramount to them and the rest of the work comes second.
Novedge: How do you approach collaborations and team work?
Matthew Shlian: I love to work with people that think differently from me. When I was in school and stuck on a printmaking project I wouldn't ask another print-maker for help. They would talk about ink or registration- I'd ask a glassblower, because they would talk about process or something in their approach. I've always felt my work rested more on the outskirts of fine art and design.
Matthew Shlian is an artist, paper engineer, teacher and collaborator. After graduating from Alfred University in 2002, he spent three years working as a paper engineer in the field of commercial design. He made movable paper contraptions, from pop-up books to greeting cards to artist books and kinetic sculptures. In 2006 Matt received my MFA from Cranbrook Academy of Art. Currently he operates a design studio in Ann Arbor Michigan, teaches Foundations and Paper Engineering at the University of Michigan and works as a visiting research scholar at the University’s Material Science department.