Interview: Artist Makes Faces Emerge from Brilliantly Manipulated Netted Tulle Fabric

Tulle Portraits by Benjamin Shine

Most portrait artists opt for paint as their medium, but British artist Benjamin Shine folds and presses giant sheets of tulle fabric into beautiful abstract faces. His stunning Flow series features dreamy, peaceful faces that seem to emerge from the delicate fabric folds like clouds of smoke. His latest Sky Flow piece, titled Quietude, takes his signature fabric sculptures to a new, much larger scale. Commissioned by MindBodyGreen for their annual Revitalise wellness summit, the epic, 15-foot outdoor sculpture has been installed at the Ritz Carlton Resort in Tucson, Arizona.

By manipulating single lengths of tulle into facial forms, Shine literally and metaphorically represents “mindfulness, meditation, and the notion of finding clarity out of chaos.” Each piece is made by bunching and layering the fine-netted material to achieve different levels of opacity and tone. His Quietude piece was in development for several years, as the challenge of constructing a self-supporting sculpture from net proved unsurprisingly challenging.

After countless trials and errors, Shine decided to work with a mesh manufacturer to design a custom 80-foot by 20-foot net from recycled HDPE material. A hidden steel frame is cleverly used to provide the necessary strength, allowing the fabric to stay in place. As the natural light changes, the breathtaking sculpture appears to change color from light pink to deep crimson, adding even more drama to the artwork.

We recently caught up with Shine to find out more about his inspiration and processes. Read on for My Modern Met’s exclusive interview.

Tulle Portraits by Benjamin ShineWhen did you first begin experimenting with tulle?

I first used tulle during my fashion studies but it wasn’t until I saw a crumpled ball of it on my studio floor in 2008 that I noticed its potential as a medium to create sculptures away from the body.

What draws you to working with fabric?

This grew naturally out of my fashion studies, discovering the many methods of construction and the interplay between solid and fluid. Working with tulle opened up another dimension, like an x-ray of fabric, its transparency reveals its form, while also offering an ethereal aesthetic as if watercolor, ink, or smoke.

Tulle Portraits by Benjamin ShineCan you describe how you achieve so much detail?

The detail is created by hand-manipulating the material in different ways to create tones, texture, and directional strokes. For the canvas works I use an iron to bond the material to the canvas and for installations I use a thread and needle to sew the material into form. The main technique revolves around “folding” and using this action to create the image. The Flow series takes this concept to the extreme, whereby a single, uncut length of tulle is folded to reveal the facial features within the flow of fabric.

Tulle Portraits by Benjamin ShineWhere do you source your fabric? And does color play a significant part in your process?

I work with different suppliers depending on the type of material I need. Likewise with colors, it depends on the effect or emotion I’m trying to achieve. Purely from a technical point, I tend to work with mid-tones and darker colors as these ensure good contrast and visibility.

How long does it take you to complete each piece?

Usually a couple of weeks for the smaller and mid-size pieces and for larger works, sculptures, and installations it can take several months.

Tulle Portraits by Benjamin ShineTulle Portraits by Benjamin ShineWhat inspires you about the human face?

A sense of life, mystery, and a story. Whereas the portraits are highly detailed to achieve a strong likeness to the person they are depicting, the more recent Flows are abstracted and anonymous.

Tulle Portraits by Benjamin ShineTulle Portraits by Benjamin ShineDo you have any upcoming shows or projects you’d like to share?

Currently I’m taking part in Textile Month New York, which runs through September where I’ll be giving a talk at the Museum of Arts ad Design and new works from my ongoing Flow series will be showing at Boccara Gallery, New York.

Tulle Portraits by Benjamin ShineTulle Portraits by Benjamin ShineTulle Portraits by Benjamin ShineTulle Portraits by Benjamin Shine

Benjamin Shine: Website | Instagram | YouTube

My Modern Met granted permission to use photos by Benjamin Shine.

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