ROBERT CUMBER meets an artist who creates stunning portraits using the unusual medium of nails
WHEN people talk about art going under the hammer, they're not usually speaking literally. But that's exactly how Marcus Levine creates these stunning images.
Each portrait is composed of up to 50,000 nails.
But the painstaking process - a typical piece takes the Yorkshire-born artist about three weeks to complete - is definitely worth it.
The shimmering sculptures appear to move before your eyes as the light falls on the miniature armies of nail heads, giving the subjects a fluidity and life of their own.
"I like the idea of using these hard, sharp objects to capture the softness and muscle tone of the human form," said the father-of-two.
"Each nail casts a shadow and, as the light shifts, the appearance can change from that of a pencil sketch to a heavy charcoal drawing.
"They're constantly changing on people's walls. Someone told me he could sit looking at one of my portraits for hours and keep seeing something new."
Marcus, who studied alongside Damien Hirst at Jacob Kramer Art College, has been making nail sculptures since 2004.
For his first portrait, he persuaded his Hungarian wife Krisztina to sit for him before disappearing into the studio of their Budapest apartment for about three months to perfect the technique.
"It was a bit like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang - I hadn't told them what I was doing, so they kept hearing these banging noises from the studio and
had no idea what I was up to," he said. "When I showed my wife the first portrait she absolutely loved it, but she didn't realise who it was until I told her."
Although he's a dab hand at DIY, Marcus says working on the sculptures is a million miles from putting up a shelf or fixing the roof.
Working with a blank canvas, but referring constantly to preparatory sketches, he knows every nail could ruin the picture but says the hardest part (other than getting the hair right) is knowing when to stop.
He can spend hours hammering away once he's 'in the zone' and says there's always the temptation to add one more nail.
Despite the bizarre technique becoming almost second nature to him, it's not without its hazards.
"I get quite bad backache and shoulder pains, and my eyes get really heavy when I've been at it for a while," he said.
"The worst bit is missing the nail. Sometimes I don't even realise I've hit my finger until I suddenly notice there's blood all over the picture. It happens often enough for it to be annoying."
An exhibition of Marcus Levine's work called Hammered was showing at Gallery 27, in Cork Street last week.