Shin Tanaka’s Paper Art

Tougui, of France, and Cubeecraft, of USA, are well-regarded international Papercraft artists. They’ve collaborated with corporations, celebrities and artists from around the world, and these collaborations reflect the nature of the Papercraft industry. Beyond its historic connections with Japan and Origami, Papercraft is an international communal collaboration. I’ve participated in this culture with other fans by building, redesigning, and circulating paper models across digital networks. But Shin Tanaka does not participate in this network. Shin Tanaka, of Japan, is a notorious Papercraft artist because he elevates his work above his fans and peers, and disassociates himself with my understanding of the community.

I’m not suggesting Shin’s designs are terrible, on the contrary I love them. His models closely resemble modern art: simple and angular like the basic shapes that form a drawing. They’re also quite intricate and detailed and printed with designs that reflect Shin’s affinity with America, urban design and street art. Shin also has a close relationship with fashion with models often featuring an article of clothing, like a jumper (seen in his numerous T-BOY series); a hat; or one of the 96 smiling shoes from his Ws series. He’s also worked with over 200 brands and designers, including Nike and Scion, in collaborations and promotional projects. Most recently he collaborated with Karl Lagerfeld, a European man with white hair who is a prominent celebrity in the fashion industry. The KARLxSHIN project was created in 2013 for the Parcours Saint Germain, an annual event where art installations are exhibited in luxury boutique cafes and hotels in Paris. Karl and Shin’s partnership may be surprising but not unlikely. Shin’s work transcends Asian culture because its simplicity is inclusive, and his work with Karl only strengthens that observation. International fans, like myself, can find relevance in Shin’s work because street and urban art has influenced art disciplines across many cultures.

One of Shin Tanaka's T-BOYs with a hood

One of Shin Tanaka’s T-BOYs with a hood

The consistency of Shin’s works reminds me of people building paper cranes over and over, design after design. However, while a paper crane is thrown away after its constructed, Shin’s is showcased. His site is run by publicist and photographer Mily Kadz who runs other high-end artist pages. This association of Papercraft with other high forms of art and photography is unique elevating his work to a high degree. Perhaps this is why his designs are displayed like an art gallery. To be seen not touched. It’s not distributed freely by the artist. You can only download his work for the first two months, anything older is deleted (and some are only released for 24 hours!). But the worst aspect is you can view his entire collection – all 200+ designs. I feel awe and discomfort towards Shin. He’s constructed a high profile image by elevating his work beyond its usual form. I want to make his works but there’s no access. Let me make them, I say. You can’t have it, someone translates. But I want it!

You can’t even buy his designs. I’ve attempted to find links to his work through caching sites like Way Way Back Machine (a cataloging site that I use to find ‘download links’ that have been removed)  but it doesn’t work if they’re removed from the server. Here, this is why I love Shin. I’ve developed a compulsion towards Shin’s works. I resemble a younger me who wanted to collect all the Squirtle cards from Pokemon Trading Cards, or all the Crash Bandicoot toys from Tazos. I don’t know quite why I want these things, maybe because it was unlikely I could collect em’ all. But I wanted to collect and build these models. But I can’t because I’m too late. This is remarkable for a Papercraft artist to do. This is Shin Tanaka’s notoriety. I now regularly return to his site to get his new models because I refuse to miss out.

Besides his collaborations, Shin is not connected internationally with his fans. He has no social media presence, at least not on American and European platforms (maybe he’s active on Asian social platforms), but as an Australian audience member It’s hard to search beyond my English limitations. It doesn’t help when nothing is linked to Shin’s website. He has no personal connection with his audiences except for our connection with his work. You can find a small amount of his work everywhere. But most of it is hard to find. Yet, even though his designs are temporary, there are sites and Shin ‘devotees’ that have archived potentially all of his work. I have them all now. It is perplexing that an artist, influenced by urbanism, only communicates through his collaborations. In an industry that is driven by connections, Shin Tanaka is the least connected participatory.

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