Nathan Wyburn wants art world to 'take him seriously'

By Max Evans
BBC News

Published
Image source, Nathan Wyburn
Image caption,
Nathan Wyburn with his pizza portraits, including one of David Beckham

For a man who's depicted the Queen in Marmite on toast and painted with his feet, it's perhaps unsurprising the art world is a little sniffy about Nathan Wyburn.

The Welsh pop artist is best-known for his celebrity portraits crafted from food and he's attracted commissions from brands like Starbucks, Hovis and Morrisons.

But he's also got topical edge - with one of his works on phone-hacking hitting the front page of a national newspaper in 2012.

So should the 25-year-old be taken seriously? He thinks so.

Mr Wyburn burst onto the scene after becoming an internet sensation on YouTube in 2010 with a toast portrait of X Factor judge Simon Cowell and gained a wider following after appearing on ITV's Britain's Got Talent in 2011.

It was at the inception of his cult status, while studying fine art at Cardiff School of Art & Design, that Mr Wyburn detected a slightly condescending attitude from some lecturers towards his work.

"I don't expect everyone to like it. But people that do, love it. I'm completely fine with it," he said.

Media caption,
Nathan Wyburn paints Miley Cyrus with his tongue

"I don't mind that it [his work] is going to get looked down upon. All of the pop artists were for so many years."

Mr Wyburn, who is originally from Ebbw Vale, Blaenau Gwent, may be unashamedly fixated on celebrity culture, but his work has also been recognised for its commentary on current affairs.

His portrait of Rupert Murdoch, made from 5,000 images of alleged phone-hacking victims, featured on the front page of The Guardian.

"It is current to current affairs and current to pop culture. I don't see why that should not be shown in a gallery, in the Tate Gallery or the National Gallery.

Recognition

"I do strive to be taken seriously. It would be nice to get that sort of recognition," he added.

Mr Wyburn said he recently learned that he will be taught as part of the GCSE art curriculum in Wales and the possibility of him being mentioned in the same lesson as his hero Andy Warhol is "mind-blowing".

While his fascination for art began in school, Mr Wyburn believes there is little being done to inspire the next generation of artists in British classrooms.

Image source, Nathan Wyburn
Image caption,
Nathan Wyburn created a portrait of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Princess Charlotte

"I don't think there's enough of a push to believe you can have a career in art or to spur people on.

"In school, I didn't know I was able to have it as a career. I don't think many of the teachers would push you enough, encouraging you to be creative people.

"Creative people, in general, are dismissed as non-academic. That's not what it is at all.

"Without creative people, without music, without the arts…where would we be without culture?"

An unashamed purveyor of popular culture, Mr Wyburn has created images of football manager Fabio Capello from Bolognese sauce and pasta, singer Tom Jones from cassette tape and TV presenter Jeremy Clarkson in motor oil.

Image caption,
Andy Warhol would have appeared on Big Brother if he had still been alive, according to Nathan Wyburn

He said that, not only was Warhol right to say everyone would one day be famous for 15 minutes, but also insisted the dead artist would have jumped at the chance to appear on celebrity TV.

"He was so obsessive about being on camera 24/7. He made himself a commodity, he made himself a piece of artwork. I think Big Brother would definitely be the one that he would do."

Mr Wyburn is currently looking forward to the release of his new book, Not That Kind Of Art, in the spring and has created a series of portraits from coffee for Macmillan Cancer Support.

But he is in no doubt about his dream project.

"I'm extremely proud of being Welsh," he said.

"I have always said I would like to go into the Millennium Stadium and, using either rugby shirts or rugby balls, make an incredibly large Welsh flag or a portrait of Sam Warburton."

Image source, NAthan Wyburn
Image caption,
Stella actress Ruth Jones rendered in Stella Artois packaging and Wizard of Oz star Judy Garland in Rainbow Drops

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