Receipt hoarders, scrapbook enthusiasts and those who appreciate documenting their personal thoughts amid the pages of a journal can thank trees for indulging their basic creature comfort. Paper really is the best thing since sliced bread, isn’t it?

Although technological advances enable us to achieve digitally what we once did manually with paper, there are still countless occasions where there is no substitution for the real deal. Case in point: tucking a caring note under a loved one’s pillow, creating an on-the-fly shopping list or handcrafting an entire menagerie of origami animals.

Across the globe, approximately 35% of all harvested hardwood — the equivalent of 4 billion trees — is processed into books, loose-leaf paper, notepads, paperboard packaging, sticky notes, greeting cards, gift bags, grocery sacks and shipping material, among many other paper-based items. In particular, 71 million tons of paper items pass through the hands of American consumers on an annual basis, 62.5% of which is successfully recovered from our municipal waste stream.

For such a ubiquitous and consistently utilized material, we often forget that there is far more to paper than meets the eye. While it has long been essential to industries as diverse as publishing, manufacturing and electronics, the tree-based material can take on transformative qualities when in the hands of an artist. Why shell out big bucks for “fine grade” artist-worthy parchment and watercolor stock when there is a plethora of post-consumer paperboard ready, willing and able to take on new life?

At least that’s what Greek artist Vally Nomidou has demonstrated through her remarkably luminescent yet somewhat off-putting female sculptures, collectively entitled, “Let It Bleed.” Partial plaster casts — augmented with a combination of reclaimed paper, newspaper, cardboard and even disposable paper towels — take permanent, unforgettable form with the application of glue and PVA medium. The result is a contorted, haunting array of feminine figures that appear to be imbued with the very essence of life.

Vally recycled paper statues

Paper recycling is often viewed with a sense of obligation and practicality, but truth be told, there is nothing terribly exciting about it. We deposit our junk mail, old catalogs, office scraps and cereal boxes into a curbside collection bin and upon being transported to a processing center, the motley material is sorted and then separated into various grades before being transformed through a series of intensive, chemical-laden steps into an amalgam of ink-stripped, contaminant-free pulp. This recycled tree slurry is ultimately converted back into paper via the process of screening and the application of massive, heated flattening rollers.

While that drawn-out process doesn’t seem terribly creative, not all post-consumer paper has to meet a slurry fate. Nomidou’s sculptures are proof positive that there is a very intriguing alternative to pulping that can be achieved through the careful manipulation of common paper-based items. Her sullen-faced ladies, many of whom bear the ink-based hallmarks of the printed word, sport texturally realistic corrugated cardboard and shredded paper locks as well as frayed, Frankenstein-like “flesh” stitches.

All art is open to diverse interpretation, so from an eco-perspective, one could presume that her glum gals are indeed representative of the fallen trees that compose her now artistically recycled figures. Warm and cuddly they are not. Wounded icons of Mother Nature? Perhaps.

Nomidou’s true artistic motivation may remain a mystery, but her work reminds the casual observer that humble, easily overlooked items can take on remarkable new forms, some that even have the power to illicit thought-provoking conversations.