HARD AS NAILS
We catch up with Yorkshire artist Marcus Levine and discover a man who is hitting the nail on the head with his amazing creations.
Having studied alongside Damien Hirst at art college back in the 80s, Marcus Levine has never been afraid to push the boundaries when it comes to his work and forty years on, he is still hammering home that point with his incredible masterpieces.
While he might not have gone on to achieve the same global notoriety and wealth as Hirst, the eye-catching work of Levine is now recognised around the world and proudly hangs on the walls of the rich and famous including Hollywood superstars and sporting legends.
For this is a man who has made a living using nails to create works of art that are as thought-provoking as they are brilliant and which have included portraits of David Hockney, Al Pacino and Vinnie Jones, the latter two who commissioned Levine to bring them to life with the humble nail.
It is an art form he first experimented with nearly 20 years ago and one that involves the 57-year-old spending hours painstakingly hammering thousands of nails into wood or metal to capture a figure so realistically.
For his giant portrait of David Hockney, which he created five years ago to mark the artist’s 80th birthday, Levine spent a year putting 250,000 nails into 12 different panels which then came together to form the epic mural which proudly hung on an outside wall in Bradford’s Little Germany for three years.
It was, says Levine, his most challenging commission to date and one that showed how far he has come as an artist.
After completing his studies at Leeds College of Art, Levine began his career as an artist working with watercolors and abstract works, but disillusioned with the commercialism of that he decided he wanted to create something more challenging and push himself further.
After buying a property in Budapest with his Hungarian wife Krisztina and been inspired by the height of the 4.5m walls he decided to take on a more epic challenge and try his hand at nail sculpturing.
He said: “It was 2004 and I decided that if I was going to make it as an artist I needed to be producing work that inspired me and that would take me out of my comfort zone.
“For a few years I’d had the idea about nail art as I was fascinated with the interplay between the rigid, angular nails and the soft curves of the human body but I hadn’t had the guts to do it. Thankfully Krisztina agreed to pose for me and I took the plunge and produced my first piece.”
For the next three years with his wife acting as his muse, Marcus slowly built up the confidence and skills which suddenly started attracting the attention of art critics and galleries across Hungary.
Sculptures of celebrities including Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Al Pacino soon followed and within a few years his work was attracting the attention of a wider audience.
Talking about the process, Marcus, who lives in Saltaire and has a studio in Keighley, said: “Each piece I create starts with a sketch and from there I will start inserting the nails individually by hand using different colours, sizes or textures depending on the effect I want to achieve.”
It is a laborious process and for the Hockney mural, Marcus says he lived like a hermit in his studio for 12 months and suffered from white finger, repetitive stress injury and aching limbs after hammering his way through 250 kilos of nails.
Talking about that project of Bradford’s most famous son, Marcus said: “I wanted to use each panel rather like Hockney would use his Polaroid’s, capturing a person without the photos marrying up so as to pay homage to his style using my technique with nails.
“It was a painstaking process but one I was hugely proud of. I’ve always been inspired by Picasso, David Hockney, Jackson Pollack and Andy Warhol so to be asked to create Hockney in my home county was a real privilege.”
It is his long-standing love of modern art and particularly that of Warhol’s pop art that has inspired his latest creations – a series of bold and abstract 3D pieces that jump out and are a progression from his figurative work.
He said: “I wanted to explore different styles while still retaining the nail element to my work and as a huge fan of pop art, combining the two to create something totally unique seemed the natural choice.”