Unfolded Boxes Made Into Art, Simply With Paint

Esther Stewart imagines complex cardboard containers, then disassembles them.

The world is filled with boxes of all shapes and sizes, and every single one of them can shape-shift. Tug away at the glue that holds a box together and you’ll see it for what it really is: an elegant little prefab home designed for a specific mass-produced resident–a piece of cardboard origami, conceived in reverse. We’ve seen those products, and those containers, become art before. But Esther Stewart may be the first to take interest in their unassembled form.


The nine pieces in Carton aren’t real boxes in the sense that they once sat on shelves themselves. In fact they’re huge things, measuring several feet in both directions and made out of hinges and wood–distortions that “confuse the line between functional and non-functional,” Stewart says.

But they’re all inspired by cartons of one sort or another–Chinese take-out containers, pizza boxes, popcorn cones–and the Melbourne-based artist was careful to ensure that each pattern could be folded into a real, complete container. Stewart says she liked the idea of viewers trying to imagine the patterns in their full, three-dimensional forms.

That’s not as simple as it might seem. I can barely muster an idea of what the Honey Nut Cheerios box sitting in my kitchen would look like when disassembled, yet alone mentally re-construct the more complex shapes here. Like that odd geometric millipede bristling with a series of tabs and latches–it may as well be a challenge worthy of a MENSA entrance exam.

Still, even if you ignore that exercise, the series is compelling purely on a visual level. It gives us a new way to think about objects we see every day. And, in a funny way, it provides a little incentive to break down and recycle all those cardboard boxes you’ve been accumulating. Why would you waste the chance to deconstruct them, to see how they work?

See more of Stewart’s work here.

[Hat tip: It’s Nice That]