For most, the Rubik’s Cube is a nostalgic but frustrating time-waster. For Cube Works, it’s raw material for art.
Located in a restored Victorian industrial building in the Distillery District, Cube Works is part studio and part gallery. Vibrant, multi-coloured, in-your-face pictures of familiar icons—Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, Bob Marley—are plastered all over the exposed-brick walls. Get a bit closer to the images and you quickly realize they’re not paintings or posters, but rather artwork made entirely out of Rubik’s Cubes.
In much the same way that pixels on a computer screen are coloured and organized to form images, Cube Works uses Rubik’s Cubes as the core material for their art. The inspiration for the company’s “retro yet avant-garde” work, explains Josh Chalom, the creative director of Cube Works, comes from playing old-school videogames. Translating that eight-bit gaming aesthetic into art was natural. “Kids make simple images, like putting a few cubes together to create a flower,” he says. “We’ve just taken it to a much larger level.” The studio also features art created with dice, thread, crayons, and other unusual materials.
Creating these intricate compositions is no easy feat. If the artwork is commissioned, the client will bring the idea to the Cube Works design team. They create or find an image and then pixelate it using computer programs, but it takes many hours to “map out” the blueprints for each project. “It’s a little bit trickier than it looks,” explains Nick Hall, Cube Works’ design architect. “The computer thinks in an infinite palette, but we only work with six colours.”
A computer doesn’t have the ability to think about depth, tonality, or shading. Each cube contains nine pixels, and the design team adjusts each one individually on the screen until they attain the desired effect. “If you look at the Bob Marley piece, to get those colours you really have to be detailed,” Chalom says. “You know, one cube out, and it would look like Bob Marley has a booger coming out of his nose.”
The next step involves people Chalom calls “key cubers,” who individually twist each Rubik’s Cube until each square lines up with the blueprint. You might assume there’s a formal process in locating people with the specialized skill to twist a cube in less than 30 seconds, but Chalom admits he usually finds them through Craigslist. “We post ads online, and after that it’s by word of mouth. Every cuber knows another cuber.” The final step involves a collective effort to assemble the piece, which can be quite tedious, depending on the size of the work.
Cube Works’ recreation of Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper” is featured in the 2011 edition of Guinness World Records. At the time, the mosaic, made up of 4,050 Rubik’s Cubes, was the largest of its kind. It debuted at Nuit Blanche in 2009.
They ended up destroying that record with “Hand of God,” a mosaic modelled on Michelangelo’s painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. At 29 feet by 15 feet, it’s made up of 12,090 cubes. Chalom is in talks with several organizations to reproduce the entire Sistine Chapel ceiling, using around 250,000 cubes. “If no one does it, I’ll buy a building and do it myself,” he says.
Outside the box
Many galleries prohibit photography, but Cube Works actually encourages visitors to snap a couple shots. “Art is for sharing,” Hall says. This ideology extends to other artists’ work; the colourful teacups and ceramics for sale at the front of the room are by Brazilian artist Romero Britto. “When tourists visit [the studio], they want to take something with them. I love Britto’s work, and I thought other people would, too,” Chalom says.
The Cube Works team is currently working on a massive order for a gallery in Aspen, Colorado. The gallery ordered 22 cube pieces with 450 to 1,200 cubes per piece. Chalom says they hope to finish up the project by around June 1.
Cube Works Studio, 55 Mill St., Building 54, #SLM 416-879-4259, cubeworks.ca.