Artist Eric Joisel began his unlikely career as a trained sculptor outside Paris. In his late 20s, however, he threw away every clay pot and chiseled carving and began to practice origami. Working from single sheets of paper - in a quest to transform two dimensions into three - Joisel's imagination sprang to life. Many of his greatest works involved coaxing intricate human portraits from paper: from furrowed brows and aged, careworn hands to elaborate costumes and artfully crafted faces. Considered one of the world's most gifted paperfolders, he created a body of work that only years ago would have been considered impossible. Tragically, his talent gaining international recognition, Eric Joisel passed away in France October 10, 2010 at age 53.
Eric Joisel in his studio. Credit: Vanessa Gould.
After his cancer diagnosis, Joisel continued with his most ambitious work, the Commedia dell'Arte series. Credit: Vanessa Gould.
Joisel in his formative days, when he worked in clay rather than paper. Credit: The artist’s family.
Joisel in his usual high spirit posing with his model of an African rhinoceros and a miniature concertina from his Musicians series. Credit: Naomiki Sato.
Joisel poses with his jazz band, which took him two months to complete. He is wearing a colander on his head and playing the forks (he says he finds the spoons too common for his tastes). Credit: Eric Joisel.
With the recent death of Eric Joisel, the French artist featured in Between the Folds, comes an immense and, in many ways, indescribable sense of loss. Messages of sadness were emailed, tweeted, and posted from all corners of the world. There remains a collective sense of sorrow, from friends, acquaintances and strangers alike. Eric was at the height of his career.
"I wish I could fold my grief as you folded paper, for then it would be beautiful," said one Twitterer. "Such a profound loss. I'm grieving," shared another. "He was too beautiful for this world," wrote a Facebook user.
In their grief, people took to folding paper themselves. Portraits of Eric — one from Vietnam, another from Australia. Scores of renderings of his easier pieces. Even a delicate butterfly was created in his honor.
It pains me deeply to think of what more Eric would have done in the years ahead — thoughts that won't be had, things that won't be made, creations we'll never get to see. It seems that when an artist dies, we lose a bit of ourselves. A bit of our collective identity. A bit of our cultural treasure. And, yes, grief follows.
The comforting converse to this, of course, is the gift artists so generously endow us with: objects, ideas, and a few seeds of inspiration that hopefully spring eternal.
I'm proud of Eric beyond words. For, from a simple worktable in a farmhouse outside Paris – armed with fantastic imagination and a mere stack of paper – Eric gave the world a most glorious gift.
— Vanessa Gould, director of Between the Folds