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 Inside Out - West Midlands: Monday October 4, 2004

THROUGH THE EYE OF A NEEDLE

Microscopic Snow White figures
Wigan's sculptures of Snow White and the dwarves

You may not be able to see it, but this is the work of a world-famous sculptor, who creates pieces so small they are almost invisible to the naked eye. After years of developing his technique, Willard Wigan chats with Inside Out about his love for all things miniature.

It's not every day you visit an art gallery only to find the exhibition is visible only through the lens of a microscope, but art enthusiasts visiting Birmingham's The Artlounge are set to be very surprised.

In an exhibition by world-renowned microsculptor Willard Wigan, tiny sculptures no bigger than a pinhead are on display underneath gleaming perspex domes, set on a plinth with high-powered microscopes to bring them into focus to the naked eye.

Military precision

Willard using microscope
Willard uses a microscope to go about his intricate work

Among the pieces on display are reproductions of landmarks such as Tower Bridge, and scenes of Jesus Christ and The Last Supper, with each individual figure no bigger than an eyelash or a human hair.

At less than a hundredth of an inch tall, it's painstakingly precise work.

Willard has been developing his technique for 40 years and has sculpted pieces from gold, carbon fibre, nylon and even a grain of sand.

He says it takes approximately one to two months working in total solitude at his studio in Jersey to complete an individual piece.

"The stillness of it is very important - you have to control the whole nervous system, you have to work between the heartbeat - the pulse of your finger can destroy the work," explains Willard.

"That's when the real concentration has to come out - mind, body and soul has to give in order to do this."

Inspiration

Willard Wigan
Willard's inspiration came from his childhood obsession

Willard's fascination with all things miniature began in his schooldays, when he developed an interest in the smaller things in life.

He says, "Call me eccentric, I suppose, but when I was little I had a fascination for ants so I set about making houses for them. I got obsessed with miniature things."

It's obviously paid off - Willard is now one of the world's most revered micro-miniaturists, with some of his pieces selling for upwards of £15,000.

Veejay Lingiah, Managing Director of The Artlounge, said, "I think one of the beauties of Willard's work is that it crosses all cultural boundaries.

"No matter what language you speak or where you're from, you can't help but be amazed by his work."

Real or illusion?

"You have to control the whole nervous system, you have to work between the heartbeat - the pulse of your finger can destroy the work."
Willard Wigan

But Willard's work is not without its sceptics. He says, "A lot of people look at it and think 'is it a trick?'

"You get them checking the microscopes to see if there is any illusion. To me that's a compliment."

It may be a compliment to the artist, but his work is no illusion, and we've got the proof.

Microsurgeon Dr Bartley McNeela gave one of Willard's prized pieces, a delicately-carved African elephant on the head of a pin, the professional once-over.

"It is very impressive work. I don't know if I even get to that level in my job! It's very impressive indeed."

Success!

And it looks like the buyers are happy, with one satisfied customer saying, "If you try to tell someone that this guy's done the Last Supper through the eye of a needle people just look at me like I'm crazy.

"I thought 'I've just got to have one of these pieces.' What I'm going to do with it I don't know - I'm afraid to drop it, that's all I can say, I'd never find it again!"

Having sold out all 12 pieces of his first exhibition, it's back to the drawing board for Willard, who literally has the world in the palm of his hand.

"It's fantastic. When people buy my work it is a piece of my soul, a piece of my misery which I went through to do it.

"Everybody's happy - I've introduced people to my world, the world of Willard Wigan, the world that we don't think exists."

See also ...

On bbc.co.uk
Blast Birmingham - Willard Wigan
Blast Birmingham - Gallery

On the rest of the web
Willard Wigan - Official Website

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external websites

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Readers' Comments

We are not adding any new comments to this page but you can still read some of the comments previously submitted by readers.

Richard Tetlow
Just a quick point. The exhibition of Willard's work is not owned or run by The Artlounge. This is the impression given by the program and this site. The Artlounge have the rights to sell Willard's sculptures, but not to exhibit them. Otherwise a superb program.



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