The medium tells the message

Anyuta Gusakova, a Russian-Canadian artist, recently exhibited three paper sculptures at the CityScape Community Art Space in North Vancouver. The gallery’s exhibition, Purely Paper, showcased five Vancouver artists’ creative manipulations of newspaper, maps, papier-mâché and more in an effort to push the boundaries of paper as an artistic medium.

Gusakova’s art first came to the attention of CityScape when she posted her work on the website for the Eastside Culture Crawl.

“CityScape saw my paper pieces on the website, and they had in mind a paper exhibition, so it kind of fit,” Gusakova says.

Paper in a plastic era

Anyuta Gusakova in studio. | Photo courtesy of Milos Tosic

Anyuta Gusakova in studio. | Photo courtesy of Milos Tosic

Experienced in sculpting mediums as diverse as stone, bronze and porcelain, Gusakova discovered the versatility of paper as a medium only a short while ago. It took her some time to develop her own recipe for paper pulp, but she was pleased with the outcome.

“All the other mediums had some technical restrictions. The properties of paper pulp are amazing. I can create any sort of spatial structure,” she says.

In addition to being more malleable than other mediums, paper is also lighter, more cost effective and less labour intensive to work with because it does not require a mould-making step.

Gusakova also emphasizes that paper is a non-toxic, eco-friendly medium that feels very natural to work with because it can be carved like wood.

“It’s like getting back to your roots because the medium has a long history. There’s a papier-mâché renaissance right now. Artists are trying to find something that is safe and strong. We’re coming back to knowledge we’ve forgotten in a plastic era,” she says.

For artists experimenting with different materials, there are many reasons to consider paper. To Gusakova, the medium is not the message, but the medium allows her message to be heard.

“I have an image, and I choose the medium that will translate the image into three dimensions. Using paper, my imagination isn’t limited. Now I’m experimenting with how far I can go,” Gusakova says.

Russian roots

Born and raised in Russia, Gusakova was recognized for her artistic gifts at an early age. At 10 years old, she was selected to participate in the prestigious four-year Young Talents classical arts program.

“I don’t remember a moment when I wasn’t making art. It’s something that I just did as naturally as I breathed,” she says.

Aphrodite, paper mache by Anyuta Gusakova. | Photo courtesy of Milos Tosic

Aphrodite, paper mache by Anyuta Gusakova. | Photo courtesy of Milos Tosic

She later attended the Stroganov University of Art and Design in Moscow where she completed her Master of Fine Arts in sculpture.

In 2009, after having freelanced as a sculptor for privately commissioned projects in Russia and Europe, Gusakova moved to Vancouver to continue developing her craft more freely.

Despite her passion for art, Gusakova struggled with deciding whether to pursue art on a professional level due to its reputation as a difficult career path. In addition to the prospect of long-term financial instability, Gusakova was also aware of the creative limitations posed by the intertwining of politics and art in Russia.

“In Russia, you never speak your mind. You have to fit in,” she says.

Acknowledging these challenges, Gusakova knew that art was more than a pastime for her because she wanted to master the craft. Before studying art, Gusakova felt tortured by mental images she could not realize in three dimensions. Now that she has mastered sculpturing, Gusakova can share her ideas in a manner that allows the finished piece to mirror her imagination.

“As an emerging artist, paper saves me. I can make large sculptures without investing too much money or time. I don’t get tired through the process. I start with emotion and I finish with emotion,” says Gusakova.

For more information about Anyuta Gusakova, visit: