Moving paper


A feeling from the world of dance and a passion that stems, first and foremost, as the awareness of the self. His name is Lele Dilli. He creates unique pieces, which are entirely handmade with scissors and scalpel. They are accompanied by poems and led with LED stripes to highlight their shapes and enhance prospect. The result is a “wow effect” that leaves everybody speechless

Emanuele Tarchini, who uses the pseudonym Lele Dilli, is a professional dancer: it is the body that gives life to his thoughts and music is the fil rougeconnecting head and body. Dance has significantly shaped his being and, above all, provided him with a strong sense of self-awareness and understanding and taught him that there are no limits wo what one can do. His is a form of imagination without borders.

His is a type of work to channel one’s emotions into something tangible and concrete, which also goes beyond and gives things a second life: «the tree turned into paper is born again through my art; the white papers take shape and colour in a kind of harmony that is carved in the page itself and, as with any other book narrating a story, in this case, too, the pages have their own story to tell».

We wanted the same artist to talk about this touching poetic form and the endless sweetness he has expressed in this interview for Paper Industry World.

Lele Dilli, how did you start this art activity?

«Everything stems from a present I made to my wife. I gave her a book-sculpture in a period, during which I was missing my life as an artist. Years ago, I enrolled at the Pavlova Academy of Ballet & Company, where I stayed for about a dozen years. Then, due to health problems, I had to abandon this wonderful, but physically very challenging and hard world. During these years I learnt the art of dance, as well as choreography and set design. I, thus, had the chance to rediscover myself as a dancer, choreographer, tailor and set designer. I brought with me all this expertise when I decided to put myself to the test with this new artistic adventure, after being inspired by a paper artist I had seen on the web. This was supposed to be a simple fallback, an idea to bridge the gap left by dance. That battered book-sculpture, instead, which had become for me almost unbearable to look at, marked the beginning of my second life as an artist, a life entirely devoted to paper. At the beginning I only produced book-sculptures that were exhibited in the furniture store of my mother-in-law. Curiosity and appreciation by the customers have made the rest: since then, I have started selling my creations, which was something I had not thought about at all, and even being paid for that. I would have never thought that this could become my first business activity».

What techniques do you use?

«For my book-sculptures, at the beginning the tools of my craft were simply scissors and scalpel, however I did not have a real technique. Nobody has ever taught me how to process paper, I am a self-taught artist, but over the years I have found out that I always have to reinvent my techniques over and over again. Each time I have to deal with a new creation, I add something new to my technical expertise, because the new objective I have set myself requires my progress as an artist. I like to find by myself the ways to make my works of art and sometimes this induces me to use tools originally envisaged for other activities or to create tools that are ad-hoc made for the purpose. As regards the works stemming from real books, I had to learn how to process printed paper, which has a different thickness from the classical white sheet produced for paper use, with a variable paper weight between 80 to 230 grams maximum. This has been a gradual discovery: we can rightly say that paper has several “identities” and it takes time know it thoroughly, as well as propensity to fail, if you want to achieve your ultimate objective. The ability to manipulate paper and give it life by shaping it into forms that are created by my imagination is a constantly new challenge, and each sheet behaves differently from the other. Besides giving me the possibility of colour nuances caused by the inks and the yellowing due to the passing of time, old and worn books were the perfect way to express what I feel inside: after I quit dancing I feared I would end up in a corner and be abandoned like an old book at the end of his life. I found my lifeblood in paper, instead, and in this way the old books that nobody reads come back to life in my sculptures. The thought that paper comes from trees and that my first book-sculptures represent trees is, somewhat, a completion of the title».

 What paper do you use, and why?

«When I moved to light boxes and dioramas, I felt the need to change paper and adopt a different approach. White paper is more “inanimate” than printed and coloured paper in general. It is more challenging to give it life, and I find this to be a particularly stimulating challenge. I use white paper for light boxes, lanterns and dioramas, sometimes with a brush stroke of watercolour to a few elements and only when I think this is necessary. These three types of creation require a different technique; however, they have a fundamental thing in common, i.e. light. White paper lives of the light surrounding and penetrating it, be it natural or artificial light. When I create, I always need to envisage my finished artwork in advance and predict the reaction to light of the paper surface, which changes depending on the type of work and the layers it is composed by. Light-boxes, lanterns and dioramas are always equipped with microleds, which should be carefully rationed and positioned each single time, depending on the effect I want my artwork to produce, as with the lighting system of a theatre – and here my experience as a set designer, including my knowledge of proportions, comes into play. Furthermore, these works of art can be, however, enjoyed also with daylight, and I have to take also this aspect into consideration. The “wow-effect” is achieved by turning on the artwork, however the latter should express emotions when it is off, too. My goal is to communicate emotions to the spectator. Words are printed on the artwork in book-sculptures, while white paper creations always feature a “bonus”, i.e. a poem written by myself, which helps the person who is enjoying the work of art to tone with the vibrations I have felt when creating it, and that I wish to communicate.

I am currently using paper that is smooth on the one side, and rough on the other, with a 220-gram paper weight and inserts ranging between 200 and 80 grams. I have used paper of various brands, starting from the Fabriano paper, which I could use at best, especially to manage the smallest sizes thanks to its texture and porosity. This quality paper has the tendency to become yellowish over time due its high acid content and I have to take this aspect into account for the works of art that I wish to remain white over time, contrary to the ones that should take on a more “vintage” look. I spend part of my work between shelves to analyse and evaluate the sheets of paper that are currently available on the market and might be different in terms of texture, properties at the touch and resistance, also given the same paper weight. A 200-gram sheet produced by a given brand can have a different texture than the 200-gram sheet produced by another brand and this is not a problem for me. As a matter of fact, I never use sheets with paper weights higher than 220 grams, as I would like to stress that I work by hand with the scalpel and don’t use any laser like other paper artists do. A paper sheet marketed as smooth might not be smooth on both sides, instead, and this is a problem for me. When I work paper and obtain hair from it to be used on a character I want to develop, the paper might react differently to the tools I use: some papers divide in layers, others can be easily bent, while other papers produce fastidious hair. Every time I change the brand of the paper I use, anything might happen».

Where do you draw your inspiration from?

«I draw my inspiration from anything that surrounds me: my past history, my present times, my dreams, wishes and hopes, my emotions, the people surrounding me, a stimulus coming from the wind blowing, a lightning or a laughter. Dance has led me to bring my mind and my body to the extremes and perceive the world in a single way. Sometimes my creations stem from myself, e.g. an image that is spontaneously formed in my mind, while on other occasions it stems from the emotions of those who have seen my works live or in pictures and ask me to turn what they have in their mind or soul into paper. So, I get into the lives of these people, and my imagination transforms the emotions and the message that I wish to convey into shapes and light».

Your works are the purest combination of poetry, dance and movement. What message would you like to convey to the world?

«When I danced, I used my body, now I use paper. My works of art convey the message that art in its most classical sense has always wanted to convey: art is a cathartic experience offering its spectators a reinterpretation of reality, which is at times painful and rich of highly emotional memories, however which uses beauty to help achieve a vision of the world that is full of love and hope, and is clear and bright like my creations».

Do you work in Italy or also abroad? And how do you reach your customers?

«I received orders both from Italy, and from abroad: many of my works are now in the United States and in several European countries. I have recently received requests also from a number of Asian countries. I have adapted myself to the current international market: web visibility is essential nowadays. I have also published my personal website and my works of art can be seen on Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook and Behance, and purchased on Etsy. Most people get in touch with me and commission my works through these channels. This part of my activity is, unfortunately, very time-consuming, although I am neither an advertising graphic designer, nor a programmer, and I would prefer to spend the time I spend to enhance my web visibility in my workshop using my tools to work paper. The shop window of my mother-in-law Pigal offers a real display case for my works of art, as she permanently exhibits a large number of my works of various type and size. My creations can be occasionally seen also at temporary exhibitions, which are all signalled on my social media».


Your website features various sections: light boxes, lanterns, glass bells and book-sculptures. What is the reason for this division?

«The art of paper is a novelty of recent years, as for the vast majority of Western citizens it is little known and sometimes only limited to origami. Hence the need to “educate” people to learn about the various facets of this art, also through the use of loan words that may generate a sense of alienation at first: words like “light-box” and “book-sculpture” do not immediately instil in the mind of most people a clear idea of what they can expect as words, like “painting” or “sculpture”. Although in some Eastern countries paper has been present on the art scene for millenniums, here in Italy it is associated with something that has dignity only if it becomes printed paper. In Italy, a sculpture is mostly made of marble or wood; facing a paper sculpture is an unexpected option. Artworks like light boxes are virtually non-existent on the art scene. Through the various sections of my website, people can realize how humble paper can be brought to light in many different and fabulous ways».

 How would you describe your work in three keywords?

«IMAGINE IT, THINK IT, CREATE IT”. All is written in capital letters. This is my motto, my artistic and mental process. This is the motto I write on my business cards and in any of my works of art. I imagine my subjects, as if they were already finished, exactly like Michelangelo saw his sculpture in a block of marble. I think about how I can make them real and, then, my hands create them».


What project are you currently working on at the moment, if you can tell us?

«I have always more than one project going on, and these are both projects stemming from me and requests commissioned by customers. Far-sightedness in this field is essential and moving forward is part of what I do. And every time I sit at my table to design, I find out that my skills and my style are evolving. At the moment, I have received a request from Dubai. I can’t tell you more, this is top-secret».

What is your long-cherished dream?

«My long-cherished dream is to reach what we may term “art maturity”, although I have to admit that I don’t like this term very much. My goal is to realize that I managed to commit myself fully and to the best of my capacities and ability of expression, in order to tell the public everything I have inside in the best way possible. Even if, as an artist, it will be impossible to fulfil this dream, I know that the thrust to perfect yourself is often endless».