PUBLISHED : Sunday, 02 December, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 02 December, 2007, 12:00am

What's going on around the globe?

Willard Wigan is a 50-year-old Englishman. The son of Jamaican immigrant parents, he left school 35 years ago without any academic qualifications, and is still, because of dyslexia, unable to read easily.

He is also the creator of sculptures that - centimetre for centimetre - are the most expensive works sold anywhere in the world.

Wigan's sculptures are so small they cannot be seen by the naked eye, and it is only with the help of a powerful microscope that the viewer can appreciate the astonishing details. Angels dancing on a pin head? Wigan can pass his tiny sculptures of angels (and his camels, not to mention Henry VIII and all six of his wives) through the eye of a needle.

He makes astonishing pieces - accurate depictions of the Statue of Liberty, of Bart Simpson and his family, of the characters of the Wizard of Oz, each no larger than a bacterium - and which are now touring Britain.

Wigan spends his evenings in a quiet part of his house in Birmingham, slowing down his breathing, and then shining fibre optic beams at a microscope as he uses tools made from acupuncture needles and tiny sparkles of diamond sand. The pieces themselves are made of tiny shards from the nylon tabs that are used to keep laundry tickets in place.

'It's like torture,' he says. 'I hate doing it. But I like having done it.' Vulnerability is the trouble. He can spend weeks working on one piece and then with one little shudder can accidentally amputate a limb. And there is always a fear of a repetition of the tragic fate of Alice.

It happened when Wigan was finishing off his elaborate Mad Hatter's Tea Party, the nano-figures a third of the size of the full stop at the end of this sentence. 'I had finished Alice, she was the best one, and I was lifting her up, using static electricity, and then I breathed in and she was gone.'

Nobody watches Wigan at work: first, because he needs total concentration, second because, as his manager at the David Lloyd Gallery which represents him says, it can take two months to make one piece - 'and that can be pretty boring to observe'. And third because his mother always advised against it. 'You want to keep the magic,' she used to say.

He started on this journey when he was a child, fascinated by ants. 'I began to make little houses for them out of splinters of matches. Then I wanted to make little tables and school bags for them, and then that's when it started getting really small,' he says.

It continued, partly as a reaction to his dyslexia - 'when you can't read, people make you feel so small' - and partly because making tiny, perfect objects that nobody could see became a metaphor for his own faith. 'I wanted to show how sometimes it could seem as if there is nothing there, but that if you look hard enough, and have patience, then there is.'

Today, Wigan's pieces sell for between GBP160,000 and GBP200,000 (HK$2.5 million-HK$3.2 million) each. That's about 1/350th of what Jackson Pollock's No5, 1948 sold for in its record private sale last year. But as Wigan could point out, 350 of his pinhead pieces could probably fit comfortably on just one of Pollock's swirls.


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