The Amazing Mr. Wigan
A whimsical true-life tale of English micro-sculptor Willard Wigan, whose art fits inside the eye of a needle.
By Robin Jay
The befuddling riddle of Mr. Willard Wigan: What’s not visible to the naked eye but has been called the eighth Wonder of the World?
The answer: The micro-sculptures of Willard Wigan – artworks so tiny they fit in the eye of a needle; so unbelievable they have microsurgeons scratching their noggins; so brilliant the artist has been invited to speak on the same stage as President Bill Clinton, Apple’s Steve Jobs and Microsoft’s Bill Gates; so priceless they adorn the private art collections of Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Charles, and Elton John; and so breathtaking they now embody the exclusive horological brand of Greubel Forsey.
Many people find the story of Willard Wigan scarcely believable. If you still can’t trust your own eyes, grab a microscope, pull up a chair and check out the exclusive interview we have for you with Mr. Wigan himself. But take a deep breath. When Willard works, he enters a meditative state to slow his heartbeat and steady his hand so that he can sculpt in between pulse beats.
South Florida Opulence: Mr. Wigan, when did you discover that sculpting was your passion?
Willard Wigan: As a child, I suffered from learning differences. To escape being ridiculed at school, I would play truant, usually hiding in the shed at the bottom of my mother’s garden. It was during this time that I started to create small objects – like tiny houses for ants. It was my release, a way of doing something that was so small that I could not be tormented or criticized. I adopted the view that people could not criticize what they could not see. My passion grew from this time, as did my desire to sculpt as small as possible.I did not have any tuition in micro sculpting. I am self-taught. As a child, the first
medium that I worked with was with shards of wood, matchsticks and cocktail sticks. This developed to the materials I use today – gold, Kevlar, nylon, etc.
SFO: How do people react the first time they see your work?
WW: When people first view my work, they are amazed. They appear almost transient like. First they inspect the side of the microscope to see if there really are any mirrors or camera trickery.
SFO: What sort of tools do you use to create your masterpieces?
WW: I use tools commonly found in micro-surgery and, more so, in watch making. I am now very fortunate to be involved with watchmakers Greubel Forsey, with whom we share many common factors, particularly tools. But, wherever I get my tools from, I must manipulate them to fit the art piece that I am working on. I’ve used eyelashes or hairs from a fly to paint, for example.
SFO: Walk us through your sculpting process.
WW: If I have been commissioned, then the subject matter is determined by the client. Otherwise, I usually group my work into collections. For example, I have just finished a piece called The Last Supper. This will form part of the ‘Biblical Collection,’ which will be on exhibition in Jerusalem later this year. There will be either 6 or 8 pieces in this collection. The medium is governed by the complication of the piece. The main materials I use are cable tie, nylon, gold and Kevlar. The tools I also manipulate to suit the piece that I am working on. Depending on the piece of work, the time from start to finish can be between 6 weeks to 12 weeks. The finished work is presented in a microscope display case, which is very sophisticated and state-of-the-art viewing apparatus that can be mounted on the floor, wall or table.
SFO: Are there any surprising challenges you face with such a rare art form?
WW: Accidents do sometimes happen when creating the artwork. The following are examples of little mishaps!
a). When I was creating the Mad Hatters Tea Party, I inadvertently inhaled Alice whilst answering the telephone to my then girlfriend.
b). Because of my dyslexia, I sometimes confuse my right for my left.
Therefore, when I completed the piece called ‘You cannot be serious’, John McEnroe arguing with an umpire, I placed the racket in his wrong hand, right and not left. I had to redo the entire upper torso.
c). When creating the elephant on the head of a pin, I lost the elephant. I later found it embodied within the fingerprint of my right hand.
SFO: Tell me about your most rewarding creation.
WW: My most rewarding piece to date is the Galleon that I created in collaboration with fine watch maker Greubel Forsey. The technical challenges that Greubel Forsey encountered and overcame to insert one of my sculptures into their horological artistic timepieces was incredible. It was necessary for them to create an all-new base platform, operating structure, tourbillon and adjustable microscope lens. The lens was then inserted into the side casing of the watch with one of my micro-sculptures. The end result is truly phenomenal. Greubel Forsey is without a doubt the leading watch making company in the world. The awards they have won are testimony to this. Their timepieces are considered works of art. In 2009, Robert Greubel contacted me to consider entering into a co-creation with him and his partner, Stephen Forsey. They informed me of Greubel Forsey’s wish to collaborate with various leading artists around the world to create a new and unique timepiece. The first of such projects was Art Piece 1, a new timepiece exposing one of my micro-sculptures within it. The encounter was like a meeting of two different worlds, but two worlds that interpreted their work using the same language, the miniaturist.The technical challenges, the research and development that went into the project took almost four years. The result is the creation of Art Piece 1. The piece does not yet float on water. I don’t think Greubel Forsey have worked this out yet. But, I am sure they could!
SFO: What do you have on display at your own home?
WW: I actually do not display any artwork in my home. I am very fortunate that my home overlooks a river. Looking out of the window is therapeutic enough for me.
SFO: What do you personally love most about what you create?
WW: I love the finished product. As most artists will confirm, the pleasure an artist derives is when they witness the enjoyment others get from their work.
At the end of the interview, there is still one more conundrum I have yet to answer: Which is more compelling –
Willard Wigan’s micro-sculptures or the remarkable life story of obstacles he overcame to create them. To see more captivating Willard Wigan art pieces, go to www.Willard-Wigan.com.
For details about the Art Piece 1 Watches by Greubel Forsey, visit www.greubelforsey.com.