Tangled Paper

Origin Story

I’ve wanted to share the fictionalized origin story of Tangled Paper for some time, but today I will start with the truth. In the summer of 2016 I was asked to create an installation in the main compartment of a refrigerator. I chose to layer and twist recycled brown paper packaging, coating it in moody colors of spray paint. It was my first application of “Tangled Paper.”

The Kitchen, 2016, directed by Alex Hemphill

The inside of the refrigerator was just one of many surreal surprises in the group effort known as “The Kitchen,” directed by Alex Hemphill. My inspirations included Judy Pfaff and that terrifying Fridge Monster in session 11 of Cowboy Bebop.

A little under one year later, I experienced the second most painful heartbreak of my life when someone absolutely fantastic had the sense to realize the romantic component of our long distance relationship was more painful than beneficial. I returned to Tangled Paper in a more studio traditional format and began sharing the progress of that work on Instagram (@justtofollowart). It made sense, because this account was originally created just to follow them (I changed “her” to “art” in my username, and more recently my former partner changed “her” to “them”).

Recent detail image of a Tangled Paper in progress

Because I painstakingly painted each facet of the Tangled Paper with a brush, the process took a year. So did emotionally processing the breakup, so that was convenient. (My former partner and I still consider each other family, by the way. Breakups are hard regardless of animosity, which in our case was basically none except that we’re both artists and we eat feelings for breakfast.)

Nowadays, I return to the spray paint method but using an airbrush gun and acrylic paint that I dilute myself. This technique unlocks rich layering that sometimes approaches a moiré effect shimmer, and honestly it’s much faster.

So, now, when the piece I’m working on demanded I install a tiny refrigerator, I realized that I have come full circle. First you must put the Tangled Paper in the fridge, then you must put the fridge in the Tangled Paper.

Process and Theory

Interior close-up photo of a studio space, showing peg-board wall with hanging paint brushes and a blank art board made with a wooden frame covered in cardboard. Beside this is a small black desk with a large sketch of several birds.
Studio showing preliminary reference sketch and blank prepared working surface

I usually approach my work with a concept. I will make sketches on paper or digital devices to explore composition, color, and form. I custom build my work surface with a pine frame and recycled cardboard. Then I use archival quality sketch paper and archival, water-based glue to sculpt the paper onto the board. I color the paper with acrylics using an airbrush gun. I sometimes add mixed media, such as gold or silver foils, sculpted figures, miniatures, wire, string, and more.

Tangled Paper is many things, including a metaphor for the psyche. That can be literal brain folds, or the internal landscape of our thoughts. It is also meant to evoke the rippling gravity fields of outer space. This method exponentially increases the surface area of the canvas, and invites the interplay of time through light and shadow. My work is designed for the home and other living spaces; to interact with its environments. to Try viewing the pieces from different angles, in different lighting, from different times of day.


Example of mixed media to be added to the final work

Care should be taken not to pierce or crush the artwork, but the Tangled Paper is more durable than it appears. Because the coloring process uses compressed air, it is safe to dust the pieces with compressed air canisters commonly sold to clean electronics. Follow the instructions and hold the compressed air at the recommended distance, usually at least 8 inches away. Be careful not to hold the canister upside down, as that can cause it to release moisture.

While I test the sturdiness of my work with compressed air, handling the pieces or excessive light and/or moisture can alter its appearance. I urge collectors of Tangled Paper to embrace entropy as part of the beauty of the piece. If you should accidently disturb the intricate paper folds, consider it but a meaningful mark of time.


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