Making Butterflies: The Perpetual Flip Books of Juan Fontanive

01.20.16 | By
Making Butterflies: The Perpetual Flip Books of Juan Fontanive

Brooklyn artist Juan Fontanive creates self-flipping flip books of butterflies and hummingbirds… and it’s even more amazing than you think. Every flip book in the world is fascinating, but Juan’s “Films Without Light” (as he calls them) go far beyond the illusion of animation: The paper itself mimics the speed and movement of the butterfly wings that the drawings represent! No offense to Lepidopterologists, but these could be cooler than actual butterflies.

Nine robotic flip books are on view at Danese/Corey Gallery in New York right now, each containing 72 double-sided screen-prints made from Juan’s original hand-drawn images. I’m guessing the insects are life-sized (but don’t quote me on that!).

My favorite work (above) takes on the additional challenge of creating the illusion of movement from DIFFERENT species of hummingbirds on every page! It works, and it’s a brain trip.

In revisiting the show a couple times to write this article, I discovered something strange: flip books don’t translate 100% accurately to “film”. Obviously there is a loss of physicality and that feeling of “life-size scale” on a computer screen, but there is also a blur due to a differing “frame rate” from paper to camera. In person, your naked eye sees more. Also in person, the exhibition is STILL amazing with your eyes closed. The back room where they are displayed is small, and the surround sound symphony of page flips is incredible. Finally, and this may fully be my imagination, but I could swear each one is generating the slightest breeze (but like real butterflies, don’t get too close). Especially in New York City, and in winter no less, this is a rare gem that can not be missed in person.

Abyss, 2015

Abyss, 2015

What: Juan Fontanive: Films Without Light
Where: Danese/Corey Gallery, 511 W 22nd St, New York
When: January 8, 2016 – February 6, 2016

All images and video courtesy Juan Fontanive and Danese/Corey Gallery, NYC.

David Behringer visits over 200 galleries every month to uncover and share the most exciting contemporary art in New York today. Subscribe to his exclusive weekly newsletter at and learn about his private gallery tours. And be sure to check out his YouTube.