Daniele Papuli. When the house becomes… light.

Paper sculpture and objects to furnish everyday living spaces

Daniele Papuli welcomes us for an interview at his home-laboratory, renovated from a former mechanical works facility and hidden in the courtyard of a large palazzo in the area of Milan’s Viale Monza.

Lucia Maffei

“I work a lot, even at night, and living together with my works is natural for me.” Actually, the impression that one gets upon entering his house is that we are in a veritable multi-functional art gallery where we can sip coffee, read a book and chat, sitting in front of a typographer’s chest-of-drawers that has been turned into a kitchen table, surrounded – as if almost by chance – by paper sculptures and furnishings. In the basement of the industrial loft apartment, is the actual laboratory where a sea of colored papers, cut into very thin strips, elegantly invades the space. The smell of paper is the first thing we notice, together with a cascade of colors. They are the sketches, the models and the works in progress that Papuli creates for himself and his many clients. World renowned are now not only the objects of pure art – the sculptures – but also pieces and scenarios where the designer, with his artistic vein, gives paper new meanings, uniting it with design and fashion trends.

THIS, 35-YEAR-OLD ARTIST WAS BORN IN MAGLIE, in the Italian region of Puglia and arrived in Milan only seven years ago, he tells us, with high hopes, little money and three small sculptures made of paper, jealously kept in small carton boxes. Today, he is one of the emerging artists in the Milan panorama of contemporary art and design.


And with this fragile yet durable material he makes sculptures, abstract compositions and furnishings that relate to the space that contains them, communicate with it. Starting from the two-dimensional surface of the sheet of paper, Papuli creates sequences of waves, in reams of silky colored material that assume their own volume, their physical entity, a light of their own. “I was fascinated by the tactile sensation and the light possessed by this incredible material,” he tells us, “and my technique was actually born from “touching” the paper, an incredible tactile sensation, a sort of pleasure. During the summers spent in the region of Puglia, in southern Italy, free from the academy and from “serious” sculpting, I used to play with this material, discarded by typographies. For a while, I also made my own paper using the most varied ingredients! But this was just summer fun tied to the heat, the light, the sun.”

OUT OF THIS “GAME” CAME AN IMPORTANT CHANCE. In 1998, Papuli produces an extraordinary set of hand-made paper sheets for an art volume that was printed in 300 copies, a set of three books containing poems by the Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska, winner of the 1996 Nobel prize. “Today I can really say that a lot of paper has passed through my hands. The fascination I feel for the infinite potential of this material, leads me to experiment new forms of restitution of its internal light. Based on how it is “touched”, handled, cut, paper creates infinite games of shadows and transparency. And the shadow becomes sign and design.”

AN ARTISTIC RESEARCH TIED TO LIGHT and aimed at enhancing and structuring the very thin surface of the sheet, turning it into a three-dimensional volume. “The path was not simple. When I arrived in Milan, I didn’t know anything about this ambience. At the “Mia Casa” exhibition I made my first contacts and from there, I began a sort of Camino de Santiago, not in the economic sense but in the sense of recognition. I continued to present my works and each of the persons I met gave me indications as to the next step I should take.

BUT THE REAL IMPORTANT CHANCE FOR ME CAME ON A RAINY DAY, a very sad and discouraging day, while I was window shopping along the Galleria di Milano. I had stopped in front of some Missoni clothes and noticed their spun weft, the game of light and color, and in the shadows that resulted, I noticed strange and unexpected affinities with my works. I called the atelier, introducing myself as a salentino artist who was passing through. The Missoni family gave me my first important work: to design and decorate their 12 shops located in Via S. Andrea with my works, during the Salone del Mobile home furnishings exhibition. It was April 2000.

The event was called “Please Touch”. Papuli proposed a tactile “trip” through paper sculptures and the pieces of the Missoni collection.

SINCE THEN, PAPULI HAS COME A LONG WAY and today his works are present in many private collections both in Italy and in countries abroad, while today’s fashion and home decoration designers ask him to integrate his creations with their works. For example, the works called Pantarei, Amur and Bubusettete are three scenarios created for the Maison Hermès in Rome and Milan for the Fall-Winter 2005 collection. They are tall, monochrome structures that interpret the river and water. Of 2006 is the project otto bu, eight one-of-a-kind pieces, to interpret thrones and armchairs on exhibition at the Salone del Mobile.

AND THEN THERE IS THE “GAME”: PACKAGING. From the first small boxes initially born to contain the “travel-size sculptures”, Papuli created two collections of boxes: Fleur and Stotsu, both using ecologically compatible paper, completely without the use of glue, and disposable. Bowls, glasses, boxes of different sizes, all easily transportable objects to be composed based on the menu.

This is a game that is becoming fashionable and now many companies, restaurants and individual persons telephone to order his boxes and requests are often for several hundred pieces.

“I think,” he tells us, “that I will have to find a different solution because I’m afraid I won’t be able to take care of this aspect directly. I never imagined such a return on something that I began only for play!“

EVIDENTLY, ALL OF PAPULI’S “PAPER GAMES” IMPRESS DEEPLY. What strikes us about this young artist is certainly the experimental and unique rapport that he has built with this everyday material – paper. But perhaps the idea, the vision and the novelty of his artistic interpretation strike us even more, and lead us to re-interpret our own living spaces and lifestyles.

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