Friday, 7 September 2012

Art: Interview with Scott Thurlbeck

‘Origami – the stuff of geeks’ was how Scott Thurlbeck, Leeds-based “folder” referred to his art. Working in the medium of origami, Thurlbeck’s work is intricate, delicate and fascinating. We spoke, at length, in the North Bar on a sunny, Autumn afternoon. His passion for his art was infectious and inspiring:

JC: Simple question, why origami?

ST: Well, I really love doing it and I’m not bad at it. It’s the first art thing ever in my life that I’ve had a real knack for.

JC: What would you say to people who think consider origami to be out of date.

ST: Origami needs a little bit of life - it needs a bit of bad boy. It’s the 21st century, we’ve got the internet and people are still following instructions like these [he pulls out an almost incomprehensible set of folding instructions], this is single most hardest way of learning. You go from one bit to the next bit, but you don’t actually see it happening. I’ll give you an example; this is the famous Kawaski rose, one piece of paper, but it’s 3D and the instructions are flat. It took me two months to master; I had no idea how to get from the flatness to it popping up. Eventually, I discovered that people had been filming themselves and putting the videos of how to make it on YouTube; all it took was for to see one little twist and I had it. Yet people still bring books out and there’s not a single book I’ve seen with a DVD that shows you how to do it. So yeah, they are stuck a little bit in the past. Origami needs a breath of fresh air, people need to do more with it, whether its just a case of getting it out there, using it for advertising, designing logos for bands, etc. Over the last fifty years origami has really taken off, for the few hundred years before that it was just about reproducing classic designs like the Crane.

JC: Is origami art?

ST: It’s as valid an art form as any. Some people call it a hobby, but I think it is art, whatever art is. If anything, it’s sculpture – taking a material and transforming it. And the magic is [he picks up a small square of paper] that this all I need; I don’t need a ruler, I don’t a compass, I don’t need any glue. Which of course makes it incredibly cheap, and the end results can be staggering.

[Scott pulls out an origami rat. I examine it for a short time – the skill of making such an object struck me as quite phenomenal.]

This is another classic of origami, the little rat made from one piece of paper. Like most animals it has a bit of personality, it’s cheeky. It’s got a cheeky little nose and cheeky little tail. It’s by a French folder called Eric Joisel, he’s just got a feel for it. His talent is awesome. When you first try something like this, it’s really difficult. But it’s like learning a song, once you know the chords, it gets easier. Of course, anyone who’s an artist wants to do their own thing.

JC: It reminds me of the 19th Century Academies where artists would copy casts of classic sculptures in order to hone their craft. Would you say that there is an element of learning from the masters, so to speak?

ST: Definitely. Most new origami, like most art, is borne from something before. A twist here, a twist there; if you twist something enough it becomes something else. It’s constantly evolving, it’s very organic

JC: What are the main techniques you use?

ST: All you can do is fold paper or hide paper. Origami is basically shrinking a piece of paper, the trick is to hide some bits and exaggerate others.

JC: What challenges do you face when folding?

ST: It can be difficult, paper can’t be stretch, it has no elasticity at all, which can be quite frustrating. When it goes
well, it’s fantastic. I think you need a lot of patience. Actually, not patience, more stubbornness.

JC: How do you want people to respond when they see your work?

ST: I don’t really want people to say ‘oh, they’re really clever’ or ‘that must be really difficult’. I want people to look at them and think it’s cute or it’s funny, or if it’s in an advert it’s making the point. I’m working on advert at the moment for Saint George’s Crypt, the homeless charity in Leeds; they can’t afford to get adverts made. I’ve photocopies a load of ten pound notes and folding them into different things life a person sleeping rough, a house, food. What it’s saying is what your money can do for us, provide food, shelter, support – it’s honest. I’m not about making money; I’m
about making an impression to some positive end, to some good purpose. Entertaining is good, but you know, I’ve a bit of conscience.

JC: What made you get involved with Saint George’s Crypt?

ST: I was homeless myself for about a year, year and a half. I’m not there now, but I’ve not forgotten I was there. I teach at a place called Multiple Choice which deals with the rehabilitation of drug offenders. When you’re on heroin, most of your time is spent getting money or using it. If you get off heroin, you’re not gonna get job straight away – no one’s gonna touch you, so you’ve got days and days with nothing to do. Of course you don’t want to go back, so you need something to do, something to occupy your mind. So I’m gonna try origami, it’ll do their heads in at first – but it’s constructive, it’s creative. I want to show them that it can be expressive, that’s it’s not easy, but that it can be done.

JC: What are your ambitions with your work?

ST: I want my work to reach more people, do more interesting stuff, do more adverts, and help good causes – that’ll do for me. I’d like to do more work for bands and design work, so if any of your readers need some origami doing...

This article was originally published in Art Fist magazine, December 2008. (Visit

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