Beauty's in the eye of the beholder. But with Willard Wigan's work, you need a microscope to decide for yourself.
"When people see the artwork, it totally blows them away," he said. "You know, it's like a punch you don't see - that's the one that knocks you out."
Wigan is a micro-sculptor. With his creations, the smaller, the better, because the bigger the impact.
How small? Most pieces can't even be seen with the naked eye. Some of them are only three times the size of a blood cell.
And each piece - fairies, animals, movie stars - typically sit framed in the eye of a needle, or on the head of a pin.
How small can he go?
"I could probably go down to, say, five microns," Wigan said. "The tip of a human hair."
Wigan the artist decided to go small when he was a little boy growing up in Birmingham, England, As a schoolboy struggling with learning disabilities, he says a cold-hearted schoolteacher belittled him.
"'You are an exhibition of failure, and all the children in the school need to know about you, because this is what happens if you don't listen to me, children,' - you know, that type of thing? So, that made me feel that small."
His mother noticed. Her advice then still guides him today.
"She said to me, 'You are now going to continue to make small things.' And I said, 'Why?' And she says, 'If you keep making small things, your name will get bigger!'
He laughed: "She said, 'The smaller your work, the bigger your name'."
Go smaller, grow bigger - in a career spent under the microscope.
Imagine the painstaking process . . . the almost inhuman eye-hand coordination . . . the patience. He improvises his own tools - the hairs of a dead fly for a paint brush. Tools so small, they sometimes get lost, as we found out.
If YOU are thinking the process looks like torture, well, Wigan would be the first to agree
"I don't actually enjoy doing the work. It sends me insane, doing it!"
Listen to what happened to Alice through Wigan's looking-glass:
"So, I'm lifting her with the eyelash to put her underneath the table. So, I have to poke the top of her head, and I'm poking. And as I'm poking her - and I'm doing this microscopically - and at the same time, I'm going [makes deep breathing noise], I lift her out again, and then . . . !"
Wigan inhaled Alice
"And then ugh, gone!"
Even his own heartbeat works against him. "Sometimes my pulse kept on moving. It was like a little jackhammer. So, I kind of learned to control the whole thing, just naturally."
The payoff is this moment: Someone's first glimpse at what seems impossible, the "wow" moment, like Charlie Chaplin suspended on a human hair.
"An eyelash is something everybody can relate to," Wigan said. "When I decided to pluck out one of my eyelashes, I looked at it and I said, 'Hmm, could I do a sculpture on the end of an eyelash?' So I decided to create Charlie Chaplin.
"It looks like a seesaw, that he's on a type of seesaw, because the eyelash is like that. So he's like levitating almost.
"That one brings a lot of attention, because people see it and they think, 'An eyelash? Is that really an eyelash? Is that really there?'"
These tiny creations, currently on view at the Atlanta Art Gallery, go for big money - up to $150,000.
Abe Levin is a collector of rare art outside Atlanta. To him, this new "Wizard of Oz" sculpture - at $75,000 - was a bargain.
"To be able to own a piece of history, I call it the eighth wonder of the world," Levin said.
Wigan's work is also featured at a show in New York featuring a most unlikely Shaquille O'Neil.
"Put a guy like me into a little pin? That's crazy!" said the seven-foot one-inch O'Neil, who viewed himself.
"I can't do it! Took him seven weeks? Probably take me 17 years!"
Willard Wigan's work is a reminder that we all started small - and that sometimes the microscopic can have a monumental impact.
"There's a saying, 'Less is more,' and 'Little things mean a lot.' And my work, it means a hell of a lot to me, and a hell of a lot to everybody that sees it.
"I haven't reached my peak," he said. "My work is still too big!"
For more info:
Willard Wigan's Web Site
Wigan's work is on view at the
Atlanta Art Gallery
3005 Peachtree Road, NE, Suite B
Atlanta, GA 30305
Size DOES Matter - Flag Art Foundation
545 West 25th Street
New York, NY 10001-5501