Watches and clocks have been used in artwork for centuries. One of the most popular works by 17th century Dutch painter Frans Hals is that of a man holding a watch, which is why it is aptly titled, Portrait of a Man Holding a Watch.French post-impressionist artist Paul Cézanne painted The Black Marble Clock in 1869, and while the clock was more of a background prop to a table decorated with edibles, objects, and tea, the clock represents an immovable visual force, as time itself never stops, even when looking at still paintings. And of course, likely the most well-known painting including watches would have to be 1931 piece knows as The Persistence of Memory by surrealist, Salvador Dalí. Today’s horological artists, while possibly taking influence from the masters of yesterday, are creating works that are sought after by collectors and brands, alike. And they are using Instagram as a way to share their skills and their talents.
The Painter: Matthew Miller
Known by the masses (and we do mean, “masses” as his Instagram following is over 46,000) as @sunflowerman, Michigan-born Matthew Miller now paints from his home in Fort Worth, Texas. Miller’s path to painting watches came unexpectedly, however. “I didn't come from a Watch Family.” States Sunflowerman. “I didn't have Watch Friends. No Watch Mentors led me down this path. My career has traditionally been in the menswear industry. Tangentially, watches worm their way into conversations, but they really are different universes. Yet I continued to see some of the most passionate people were watch people.” Miller, who had dropped out of art school eventually let his career of painting watches happen organically. “I began in menswear by illustrating the form of clothing as it drapes on the body. I studied the movement as people walked. With watches, I asked people to submit their favorite watch with a story of why they loved it. This was the one hundred Watches Project.”
Over the years, Sunflowerman has worked with lesser-known microbrands such as Brew Watches to large-scale watch firms such as Watchbox. He recently was on-hand in New York City to paint live at a product release event for the De Bethune X Swizz Beatz Dream Watch 5 Tourbillon ‘Season 1’ watch collaboration.
The Illustrator: Lee Yuen-Rapati
Based in Nova Scotia, Canada, artist Lee Yuen-Rapati is known more widely by his Instagram handle, @onehourwatch, and with good reason. “I've been drawing all my life but watches only became an interest midway through my undergrad studies in design, when my mom passed along to me an image of an Urwerk.” Says Yuen-Rapati. “I immediately fell down the rabbit hole and watches became a frequent focus of my sketches. I started the more structured One Hour Watch project in late 2014 in order to keep practicing drawing techniques, and to learn about horology through the drawings.”
At the time he sent along the quote you just read, Yuen-Rapati had sketched a watch or watch-related drawing for exactly 2615 consecutive days, but his work has now gone beyond drawing watches in one hour. “In the past couple of years, I started to work more as a designer, creating custom numerals or typography for watchmakers like Habring2, Fears watches, JN Shapiro, and Struthers. Earlier this year I provided the design for the dial and movement motifs on the Kudoke 2 ‘Zodiac’ made in collaboration with Watches By SJX. The subject of incorporating creative typography with master watchmaking is one that I find enormously interesting.”
The Builder: Dan Tanenbaum
Torontonian Dan Tanenbaum is as creative in his work as he is funny on his social media pages. His Instagram handle, @watchpartsmotorcycles, has roughly 80,000 followers but Tanenbaum prides himself not just on being an artist, but also on being a genuine watch collector. “I have been collecting timepieces for over twenty years now and have always marveled at the engineering behind the accuracy of these movements.” Says Tanenbaum.
As for how he started building the pieces that have been his claim to fame, the cliché, “One man's trash is another man's treasure” comes to mind. “While I was at a watch dealer’s shop and noticed a bucket filled with discarded watch parts I asked what he was going to do with them. When I found out they were his ‘garbage’ and destined for a junk pile, I snatched them up. The idea that these movements which were all a part of watches, and a part of people's lives were going to be lost forever struck a chord to me. I wanted to be able to breathe new life into them and allow them to once again be the pride of someone's collection albeit in a new form.”
The Sculptor: Gaby Wormann
German-born Gaby Wormann (@gaby_wormann on Instagram) splits her time between her home country, Switzerland, and Portugal. Her horological art project, known better as, MeCre (Mechanical Creatures) began in 2012 but her work has since gained popularity amongst the watch collecting community.
Originally starting as commissions reserved for an exclusive circle of collectors with an affinity for technology and mechanics, Wormann’s one-of-a-kinds works, which are nearly all created to represent insects, are now found exclusively in MB&F Galleries in Geneva, Taipei, Dubai, HK, Rotterdam, and Hamburg. Regarding why Wormann chose to create her horological sculptures using inspiration from insects, she stated the following in a previous statement: “Insects inspire me, they are a marvel creation of nature and very fragile beings. To modify their bodies in a technical way and to give them a new futuristic identity is an artistic challenge – a photo, illustration, or digital rendering will never adequately transform my vision as people need to experience it in real life to see the beauty and intricacies of these mechanical creatures.”
The Maker of Décor: Berd Vay’e
While Berd Vay’e (@berdvaye) is not technically a person, the New York-based founders of the brand – Eddie Kurayev and Albert Akbashev – shared a passion for vintage timepieces and decided to create something with that passion that they could share with other watch enthusiasts in a way that would be creative and fun.
Only using gears, rotors, and other parts of fine Swiss timepieces, the artistic works of Berd Vay’e are showstoppers that can easily be displayed as centerpieces in any room. The watch components used are vintage, but they are hand-selected first before being carefully suspended in eight to ten layers of clear shatter-resistant Lucite® over a 24-hour period. The works are then baked at 140 °F with a force of 120 pounds per square inch in order for the sculptures to appear seamless.
While many watch brands create timepieces that are nothing short of art on the wrist, the artists mentioned here are taking horology to a place of their own, exposing the world of watches to a broader universe of creatives and collectors.
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