Local artist creates whimsical papier-mache sculptures

·4 min read

Jun. 7—Walking into Jeff Fibus' living room in Marietta is like entering a whimsical and, at times, monstrous aquarium. Papier-mache sculptures decorate nearly every surface. A colorful replica of a triggerfish sits on the kitchen counter next to a green monster with its tongue sticking out. A giant blue octopus with teeth on its tentacles drapes over the kitchen table, and an oversized, red starfish with a mouth full of razor-sharp teeth covers half of a wall.

"It's creepy, scary, whimsical," Fibus said of his sculptures. "It's obviously a monster, but it's not something you can take seriously."

The pandemic gave Fibus the time and opportunity to create colorful and intricate sculptures out of papier-mache and epoxy resin. Now, after only two years of practicing his art, one of his sculptures was selected to appear at the Marietta Cobb Museum of Art's Metro Montage XXII in July, an annual juried exhibition showcasing works of fine art from contemporary artists.

Fibus decided to submit six of his sculptures to the Metro Montage this year. When they accepted his angler fish sculpture, he was thrilled to be included in the exhibition, he said.

"I'm just so psyched," Fibus said. "I don't even care if I win anything, I'm just glad to be included and have my thing in the museum."

Fibus worked in sales for most of his career but never found much happiness doing his job, he said. He was good at it, but it was just a way to pay the bills. Creativity appeals to him, Fibus said. Now, he works part time in real estate and is able to devote more time to his sculptures.

"I love doing this, and I love the fact that people like it," he said.

Although Fibus worked on art intermittently before the pandemic, the papier-mache creatures and monsters have stuck with him these past two years. After his company went out of business during COVID-19, he had to find something to occupy himself with, he said.

"I remember doing papier-mache in like third grade, and it just really stuck in my mind and stayed with me all this time," Fibus said.

His sculptures have interesting textures, bumps and teeth. The colors range from metallic, shimmery blues and greens to vibrant reds and yellows. The sculptures' eyes are made from layers of colorful nail polish painted onto clear cabochons, which he learned from YouTube, he said.

The tools Fibus uses to design his sculptures are an act of creativity on their own. To create some of his fish sculptures, he bought two footballs from the store and covered them in papier-mache. For a giant seahorse that stands near the kitchen table, he said he started with a simple wire outline and filled it out from there, not realizing quite how big the seahorse would become. His sculptures are a hodgepodge of ingredients that form larger-than-life creatures.

The workshop in his basement has three errant tentacles laid out on the work table and rows of metallic paint and nail polish for the creatures' eyes. A tupperware of extra teeth and a bag of papier-mache powder sits on the counter. When combined with water, the powder, called CelluClay, turns into what looks and feels like clay.

The subjects of Fibus' creations look like sea creatures with a frightening twist, or they depict monsters and aliens. In one corner of his house sits a life-sized Venus flytrap modeled after Audrey II from "Little Shop of Horrors."

"I don't know what prompted me to pick the subjects, they just kind of come into my head," Fibus said. "I've always loved fish and I've had fish tanks and I love the water and scuba diving, and so this is kind of just a natural extension."

When Fibus' friends and families first saw his creations, they said they were cool but creepy, an apt description for many of his pieces, he said.

"I want 'em to say it's different, you know?" Fibus said.

Fibus has sold one of his sculptures so far, and he said he hopes to sell more, but he doesn't want to turn it into an assembly line or overwhelm himself. That would take away the fun, he said.

"I don't want it to become a job," he said. "I want to enjoy this because that's why I started doing it."

He doesn't work on it every day or all day. He likes losing himself in the creative process, spending a few hours on them at a time and enjoying it, Fibus said.

"It's like a meditation," he said. "It's just concentration and not thinking about anything else except doing this and not screwing it up."

For those looking to catch a glimpse of Fibus' creations in real life, one of his sculptures will be on display at the Metro Montage XXII at the Marietta Cobb Museum of Art beginning July 9.

"I'd like to be in a gallery," Fibus said. "I would like to sell some pieces, but other than that, like I said, I don't want it to be a job. I just want to be able to make things and have other people enjoy them."