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This paperwork is enjoyable
It started on a whim. A whim that soon became a full-blown obsession of the son of a hill-product merchant in Kerala. Sachin George Sebastian, a student of the National Institute of Design (NID) was two days away from joining a theme park as a concept developer when he found his calling - paper engineering.
"My attention was arrested by a pop-up book called Christmas Alphabet by Robert Sabuda, " says the 27-year-old self-taught paper artist. "Each letter of the alphabet was related to something Christmasy. It was perfect in terms of its geometrical figures, paper models, collapsible structures and story-telling. It seemed as if everything I was interested in converged in this book. I was riveted. I took it home and called my would-be employers to say I wouldn't be joining them. "Thankfully, my parents supported my decision even though there was not much scope in what I was planning to pursue. "
Six years down, Sebastian has no regrets. From paper pages torn out of school notebooks, he has now moved on to acidfree archival paper "that has a life of over a hundred years without turning yellow or brittle". He avoids giving his work fire or water-resistance treatment for fear of them getting a 'plasticy' look. All his works - ranging from 3ft X 3ft to 10ft X10ft - are placed in glass-and-wood cases to keep dust at bay. Dexterously cut and put together, his paper sculptures sell for anything between Rs 50, 000 to Rs 4 lakh and often deal with man's disillusionment with the metropolis. Like the human figure lying in a foetal position surrounded by torn paper or flowers with buildings mushrooming on their petals. "It's a statement on how cities grow like wild flowers. From a distance, they look pretty but, as you come closer, reveal a different story. The city ultimately, offers nothing more than a crammed existence, leaving many disillusioned and unhappy, " says Sebastian.
He divides his time between teaching students at NID, organising occasional workshops for youngsters and working on his own creations. "Although there's a lot of appreciation, the numbers of buyers still have to grow, " he says. "But I am content. At least a start has been made. " Excerpts from an interview.
How did you start working with paper?
Being a very fidgety child, I always looked for something to create. And since paper was the most accessible medium around, that's what I would zero in on. From paper and even cardboard, I'd fashion toys like planes, jeeps and buses. Initially, they were rather simplistic, but with time they started assuming a better shape and look after I'd finish with them. Of course, my interest in geometry helped. When I was at NID, I wanted to get into video graphics and product design but a visit to a second-hand bookstore in Bangalore changed all that. I saw a pop-up book and was fascinated enough to buy it. As soon as I got home, I pored over it and decided that this is what I would do. Soon I started freelancing on pop-up books with a publisher. The journey has since continued.
How does paper engineering differ from origami?
It was almost seven or eight months after I had started learning to create perfect pop-up pages that I was told this art is called 'paper engineering'. That's when I started with my own research and found out how paper engineering is, in fact, a happy mix of two arts - origami and kirigami. The former is about creating shapes by folding paper in different ways, and the latter involves cutting and the use of glue. It's obviously an ancient art but with time it has evolved, and now, although technology may have slowed things down considerably, different applications of paper art are still being explored.
What are the subjects you enjoy dealing with? You once said that you liked to explore the "narratives of the dreamer" in you.
I enjoy working on matters of everyday life. And the feelings they ignite in us. One of my pieces was inspired by this rickshaw puller who told me some three years ago how the city would be deluged with cars. 'There'd be traffic signals in front of every house', he said. His prediction is already coming true. I also enjoy dealing with contrasts - of say, people and their surroundings - and exploring the relationship and connections between them. My work is also about the 'collision' between things I both love and resent. To put it simply, it's about Delhi, a city that's growing at breakneck pace but has still managed to remain beautiful and green.
There's beauty in chaos. It's often difficult to express how despite the narrow lanes and the millions of ugly electric wires criss-crossing above, it often seems to me as if buildings are hanging on them. I imagine beauty in that ugliness and evoke the same feeling through my work.
How long does it take to create these pieces?
The work I am currently exploring started taking shape over a year ago in the form of sketches and miniature dummies. There are times when quite a fair amount of struggle goes into the execution of an idea, but the final work could take anything from four days to four months.
Is paper art taken seriously in India?
We still have a long way to go before people really start appreciating it. They do walk into my exhibition and exclaim at the work that goes into it. But at the end of it say, 'It's only paper!'
An exhibition of Sebastian's work is on till August 31 at the IIC, New Delhi.
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