The craft of ‘Quilling’ or ‘Paper Filigree’ to create unique three-dimensional works of art made entirely from paper is an ancient one, that for most parts has slipped into obscurity. Meet Justine Kuran, a self taught Melbourne based artist, whose been commissioned to create bespoke gifts for the likes of Goldie Hawn, Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, and Australian of the Year, Rosie Batty. Of exquisite beauty, detail and craftsmanship, Kuran spoke with The Melbourne Critique about this curious practice. 

The art of Quilling is certainly an obscure one. So, there must be a story of how you came into this creative practice. Care to tell us?

It’s true that in Australia most people don’t know what quilling is, despite it being an ancient art form, and there are very few commercial quilling artists here. On the other hand, in parts of India, Asia, the US and Russia, it’s huge. I started quilling about ten years ago after finding a kit in a two dollar store.  I had dabbled in lots of creative mediums, but for some reason, this one stuck and I absolutely love it. I’ve now been quilling full-time for nearly five years!  I love the texture of the paper and the limitless possibilities.

What are some of the techniques that you use in your practice? I can imagine it would be very time consuming.

Yes, some of the pieces take weeks to create as every single flower petal and paper coil is handmade from scratch from a single strip of paper.  It’s often suggested that I outsource some of my work, but every curl of paper is like an individual fingerprint. Each quilling artist will use a different amount of tension in their curIs and the release, which is how I get identical petals.

I use a variety of techniques, some using traditional quilling tools and some using obscure items that I have around the house, such as cookie cutters for moulds, or things I find on my travels, like jewellery-making tools.

I have a few different designs that require different techniques. My ‘dot’ and patterned works use mostly 9mm paper, but I use 12mm, 9mm, 6mm, 3mm and 1.5mm paper strips to achieve the 3-dimensional effects in my floral pieces.

What influences can be found in your work? Is there a direct correlation between your work and Australia?

Originally I was inspired by symbols, such as the Hamsa, which is the Middle Eastern symbol of luck and protection, the heart, the universal symbol of love, the peace sign, and the mandala, a symbol of calm and centeredness. I loved how these symbols connect to people, how we feel when we see them, and how they resonate with us.

Once the design is decided, my next decision is my favourite: what colours to choose. Aside from being a terrible fire hazard, my studio has a rainbow of paper choices to choose from. Colour is my joy. From simple, elegant white, to bright, loud, fantastical primary colours, to gentle pastel shades, I am in constant awe of the infinite combinations I have to work with. Being Australian has most definitely been my biggest colour influence. I adore the colours of Australia: the yellow wattle, our floral emblem, the green eucalyptus of our native trees, the burnt orange of our glorious sunsets, the off-white sands of our pristine beaches, the red of outback Uluru, the gold to symbolise our precious metals and Gold Rush history and the shades of brown and tan in our indigenous art. They are a glorious combination.

Recently, I have been creating more abstract pieces inspired by extraordinary artists such as David Hockney, whose use of colour has been a revelation to me, and Ai Weiwei, whose ‘Porcelain Flowers’ is my #artgoals. I also love pop artists such as Keith Haring, Andy Warhol and Robert Indiana.

And what’s your background? Talk to us a little more about the side of you that’s not the artist.

When I’m not working, I am a wife to Bernie the wonder husband, mum to three awesome teenage daughters, Marley, fifteen, identical twins Shaini and Peri, fourteen, and Mo, my gorgeous five-year-old Groodle, and I’m also Founder of Breaking Challah.

Breaking Challah is a movement started in the aftermath of the Paris attacks a couple of years ago. Our aim is to encourage Jewish families around the world to invite non-Jewish guests to their Friday night Shabbat dinners in an attempt to promote tolerance and understanding through actual experience at grass roots level. It is not a charity and it has not been designed to be a religious experience; rather, it is a cultural one that guests can talk about to their friends, children and hopefully grandchildren. The simple act of sharing our traditional foods, customs and hospitality has the ability to shatter stereotypes and halt the disease of hatred and racism.

Your work has been gifted to some pretty amazing individuals. Why do you think this is, and what is the key to creating a work that resonates with the recipient? 

Being an artist who creates pieces with a real point of difference allows me to stand out slightly from the crowd, but ensuring the artwork resonates with the recipient, well, research is key!

I’d like to think I could be blasé and cool about this, but being asked to gift to Goldie Hawn when she was in Australia last year was an ‘OMG’ moment. I was fangirling all over her when I presented her with the gift, especially as she is exactly as you hope she would be: bubbly, cuddly and warm – but much taller that I expected.  I spent a lot of time thinking about what I would create for her. Initially, I thought of a bright floral Hamsa as a nod to her Jewish background and bright personality, but whenever I told someone I was doing a piece for her, the universal reaction was, ‘Oh, I love her’, so I decided to do a symbolic love heart. I researched her home online and discovered she likes warmer colours so I created a garden of flowers and butterflies in the Australian outback colours of reds, browns, bronze, gold and sandy taupes to remind her of her visit. When I presented it to her she told me that the heart is the symbol she lives her life by and that her late mother had adored butterflies, so I was thrilled it was such a hit.

Creating a piece for former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper was a little different.  For him, I created a small maple leaf – the symbol of Canada – with Australian outback colours, using a quilling technique inspired by indigenous ‘dot’ paintings and framing it in a Victorian Ash. I received the loveliest email of thanks from him and he also tweeted a photo to his followers acknowledging in the artwork the very thing I had been hoping to achieve: the “partnership of our two great nations.”

I have been so fortunate to have been given these opportunities and know that it is a combination of networking, luck and talent. I always include a personalised letter to the person receiving the artwork with a description of the piece and my reasons for choosing the specific design and colour.

A world without art?

Boring, dull, and devoid of creativity and personality. Heaven forbid.

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