Artistry of Eric Joisel

Even if you don’t know the name, I’m sure that you’ve seen examples of his work. The artwork of Eric Joisel continues to pop up over and over again online whenever a gallery is compiled to showcase the height of artistry in folded paper – especially those breathless “I can’t believe this is origami!” or “Look what a single piece of paper can do!” posts. Often with broken links or no accreditation at all. I invite you to go to his official website and take a look at his entire body of work. It is remarkably varied and beautiful.

His animal figures are certainly wonderful but it is surely his representation of the human form that really puts his work beyond any other origami artist. Human figures and faces are difficult to portray in origami convincingly, but Joisel seems to do it effortlessly – from his early masks and figurines from the 90’s….

…to the highly detailed and personalized fantasy figures of later years, he has done what great sculptors do – breathed life into inert matter. That is what sets him apart. The technical skill is unquestionable but the artistry is in something less tangible: the life which is infused somehow into every piece.

When Eric Joisel died in October of 2010, much too soon at the age of 53, I was compelled to post something here about it but I couldn’t think of anything to say. His many friends and admirers spoke to the loss much more eloquently than I could. All I could say is that I wished I had met him. I’ve always admired his artwork and the life and liveliness in his work speaks of a man with a great heart.

When I heard that a retrospective exhibition is going on right now in Angouleme, France, I decided it was a good time to show some of my appreciation for the work of this inspirational artist. The show has been coordinated by the Grupo Zaragozano de Papiroflexia  and Eric’s brother Alain.

And here is a behind-the-scenes video of the setup and grand opening of the show

The pictures at the beginning of this post were taken from the PBS Arts website, from an article about Joisel in connection with the documentary  “Between the Folds” in which he was one of the featured artists.

Here is the segment of “Between the Folds” about Joisel:

If you watch the entire documentary (and you should) you will see people from the fields of science and mathematics drawn into origami for the intrinsic geometry particular to that art form. Joisel came from a background of traditional arts and found in origami just another medium for sculpture, like stone or clay or metal. As an artist, he simply found the medium most amenable to his style.

Origami has suffered for being perceived as something of a novelty act. Why should people be astonished to learn that origami can be a beautiful, incredible thing, and yes, even Art (that exalted species of human activity that must be separated from the mundane acts of ordinary mortals and if you don’t like it, it means you just don’t understand it)? When I see something to the effect of “can you believe it’s just folded paper” I think why shouldn’t it be folded paper? A drawing is just lines on paper, but when you look at an etching by Rembrandt, do you think “can you believe that’s just ink on paper” ? Perhaps you do, it’s pretty amazing what ink on paper can do too. But that’s beside the point. Art can be anything, really, and it’s not an exalted, isolated thing apart from everything – it’s a part of everything. Art is a way of putting life into lifeless things. That is what Joisel did; just look at his work and that’s what you see – life!





4 thoughts on “Artistry of Eric Joisel

  1. Excellent article, thank you for featuring this exhibition. I couldn’t help but laugh at 4:10 in the video where you can hear a child in the background say “C’est quoi ça?” (“What’s that?”). Sadly I couldn’t make out the response.
    I wasn’t expecting to see Joe Wu, Dave Brill and Bernie Peyton (among others) either!


    • Eric had many friends and admirers among the international origami community and I suspect that anyone who could possibly be there, was there. I wish I could have gone!
      I should point out, since I neglected to in the post, that I believe the video of the exhibition was taken by Jorge Pardo of the Zaragoza Origami Group.


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  3. I attended an oragami exhibition at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem MA several years ago. I fell in love with Eric’s work and especially one piece in the show: Self Made Man. I emailed Eric and arranged to buy the piece and pick it up from the museum. It is still one of my most prized posessions and it brings me joy every day.


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