The French Paper connection

Michael Hambouz with work from his “collaborative culture” painting series. (Photo by Markus Weaver)

Michael Hambouz with work from his “collaborative culture” painting series. (Photo by Markus Weaver)

Niles native’s art series highlights paper mill from his hometown

Niles native turned New York artist Michael Hambouz delved deep into his childhood memories to create a new artwork series that will be exhibited today through Nov. 21 at a New York City art exhibition.

The series — called Factory Made — is an exhibition of 18 abstract, cut-paper collage works that depict vibrant scenes of the Niles-based French Paper Company’s production process and machinery.

Hambouz, who graduated from Niles High School in 1995, grew up within a mile of the French

Paper Company.

Although he was aware of what the company produced, Hambouz said he had no idea that it had a creative cult-following until he started college and began meeting graphic designers and printmakers from around the country that were obsessed with the company’s paper products.

“It became a conversational point of hometown pride,” Hambouz said. “As a more traditional painter on canvas, their paper was not something that I had ever felt worked with my skill set and comfort zone, but it was always on my mind. The colors were just as rich and vibrant as the paints that I sought out and coveted.”

 

Reconnecting through art

When his mother — Linda Sue (Hambouz) Schlundt who was a longtime teacher at Brandywine Community Schools, passed away in 2012, Michael said he felt like he lost more than just a beloved parent. He also lost his sense of home.

From the Factory Made series.

From the Factory Made series.

She was his last familial link and anchor to Niles.

Beginning what would become the Factory Made series helped him reconnect.

“Working with a product sourced from Niles has helped me to keep a proud connection alive. And figuring out how to ‘paint’ with this incredible paper has been thrilling as an evolving artist,” he said.

Each work in the series highlights part of the production process at the 140-year-old French Paper Company — from pulp to the final paper product — through its renowned paper stock.

Michael said the series represents so much of what is important to him, including family, history, hometown pride and celebrating American-based family-owned businesses.

“As I strive to achieve with all of my art, I strongly believe that the Factory Made series can be enjoyed and appreciated for its beauty and craftsmanship regardless of the viewer’s interest or experience with art or the subject matter — it is art meant for everyone,” he said.

Anyone can currently view this series, along with Michael’s other projects, on his website michaelhambouz.com. If traveling to New York City between Sept. 10 and Nov. 21, visitors can RSVP to janusz@chashama.org see the current exhibition on view at the Lobby Gallery of 1133 Avenue of the Americas.

 

Beginnings

Michael’s creative drive started early with his very first classes at Fernwood Botanical Gardens at the age of 5.

He credits his mother, friends and four teachers — Bruce Evick and Marcia Cousins at Ballard Elementary and Mike Isabell and Ray Comeau at Niles High — for encouraging and challenging him to hone his craft.

“I haven’t stopped making work since,” Michael said. “I am where I am today, and I am who am today because of my time growing up in Niles.”

Michael currently lives in Brooklyn in New York City.

He makes a living selling his art, but worked for more than a decade as a fundraiser for the arts in New York City at Brooklyn Academy of Music and Pratt Institute.

He has created hand-painted promotional ad campaigns for Showtime’s “Dexter” and Oliver Stone’s “Untold History of the United States.” While working on the Factory Made series, Hambouz created a cut paper portrait of Robin Williams that was recognized by VICE Magazine as one of the top 15 illustrated tributes to the late actor. He received his bachelor of art’s degree in painting and sculpture from Antioch College.