Claire Milner is the artistic genius behind the popular Marilyn Monroe 5ft x 5ft Swarovski crystal portrait. As you can see, the attention to detail in the portrait is practically flawless down to the strands of Marilyn’s hair! Poshology has been a fan of Claire’s since 2010 and we were very happy to get the chance to interview her and she was equally as delighted and as pleasant as always. This portrait was made of 65’000 dazzling Swarovski crystals and it weighs 182 pounds, the portrait was specially commissioned by the songstress Rihanna and since it’s completion, it has been the talk of numerous media outlets. Read Our Interview with Claire.
POSH- You’ve been receiving a lot of press surrounding the Marilyn Monroe piece that pop artist Rihanna purchased, how did that come about?
Claire- I can’t be absolutely certain how it all started, but think it may have begun after I did an interview about myself and my work for a local glossy magazine. I imagine this was what was picked up by a major national newspaper and after that the story seems to have gone around the world. It started as interest in the Swarovski Marilyn for Rihanna, but I’m now getting more and more requests for interviews about myself and my work in general for newspapers, magazines, luxury blogs and the radio.
POSH- Did you actually get to meet Rihanna or speak with her in regards to the portrait or was everything done through Gemstone Creative?
Claire- I was busy working on another commission at the time and I was contacted by Gemstone Creative who I had produced other work for previously, including a smaller version of the Swarovski Marilyn. I believe Rihanna communicated via her interior designer in LA who liaised with Gemstone Creative who in turn commissioned me. It is obviously thrilling to be chosen to create art for well known people as it gives you the opportunity to build your profile and visibility in the art world, but I don’t really dwell on this aspect. The immediate concern is always to fulfil a client’s expectations, whoever they are, and in this case to meet the huge practical implications which a work of this size posed. To create a head only portrait at this scale made up of inflexible circular elements was something of a challenge to say the least and I knew it was going to be a major commitment which would need research and 100% focus for several months.
POSH- With the untimely passing of some of the most beloved musical artist such as the king of pop himself, Michael Jackson, Amy Winehouse & most recently Whitney Houston do you plan on creating crystal artwork for them or has anyone asked you to?
Claire- I have previously created a small mosaic of Michael Jackson, and a mixed media portrait of Amy Winehouse before her untimely death last year. Whitney Houston would make a beautiful subject, and I would be very happy to have a commission such as this. August 2012 will also mark the important anniversaries of the deaths of three major icons – Marilyn, Elvis, and Princess Diana, (50, 35 and 15 years respectively) all of whom I have portrayed in the past. I recently completed a giant head of Elvis (100cm x 100cm) in 36 000 black and white hole punch dots which is framed behind safety glass. I have also previously created portraits of the late Princess Diana, and of course Marilyn.
POSH- Being person, place or thing, What would you like to create with crystals as your greatest masterpiece?
Claire- I always hope that the latest piece I create is the best and that I am continually improving and evolving as an artist. Every work teaches me something new and I try to learn from it and use my experience going forward. I would love to be commissioned to represent situations of exotic places such as India, and the Middle East and Far East because in these places colours are always very vibrant and extremely rich and the use of crystals would definitely maximise the final effect. These places also have a rich history of mosaics which have inspired me in many of my previous artworks. I am currently researching my next Swarovski artwork, so I’ll let you know as soon as it’s done!
POSH- What is the favorite part of your job?
Claire- I’d say that it is more a vocation, part of who I am rather than a job that I do. It is all-consuming and I feel very lucky and privileged to be able to do something I enjoy so much. On the one hand there is a sense of freedom in being able to create work that I am passionate about because it inspires me. On the other hand there is a sense of responsibility in being commissioned to produce specific work, and rise to the challenge of fulfilling a client’s expectations! When I’m working on a commission sometimes I have to give up weekends and evenings to meet deadlines, but I love every minute of it. The great thing is that no two days are ever the same.
POSH- If you were any color in a crayon box that you wanted to be, what color would you be and how would that color represent you?
Claire- Definitely shades of blue and green. Blue because it’s the colour of the sky and represents freedom and infinity. Green because it’s the colour of nature – and I’m a country girl at heart. I also like to see how tonalities of these two colours blend together in images such as portraits to give creative and unusual combinations of light and shade.
POSH- How did you begin creating art of this magnitude, working with Swarovski crystals and precious & semi-precious stones?
Claire- I’ve included Swarovski crystals in my mixed media work from way back and semi-precious stones in my mosaics. This advanced into using 100% Swarovski crystals when I was commissioned by Gemstone Creative and has since developed into my own freeform technique (as with the Swarovski Marilyn for Rihanna, and the portrait of David Beckham). This technique incorporates both my experience as an artist and mosaicist which results in a more painterly effect.
I think it was the similarity in the techniques I use as a mosaic artist that made working with crystals so appealing and such a natural progression, but the added qualities that Swarovski crystals can bring to a work of art have to be seen to be believed. A 100% Swarovski Crystal image is something very precious and luxurious, which I believe is an intrinsic and artistic investment. I love to see peoples’ reactions to an original Swarovski crystal artwork. They often stare open mouthed because the crystals are constantly changing depending on the light conditions. In sunlight they can be dazzling, sending scatterings of reflected colours around the room and in the semi dark they change mood altogether and the image takes on the appearance of a hologram. Each image contains thousands of Swarovski Crystals, all applied by hand. Using this freeform painterly technique, no image can be replicated and it is very difficult to capture their essence online or the printed page making the original artwork truly unique.
POSH- Have you been getting increased requests by celebrities for Swarovski crystal artwork? If so, do they request portraits of themselves or someone else?
Claire- As mentioned previously, I’m in the early stages of discussions about commissions which I am unable to divulge at this stage. Alongside my Swarovski and commissioned work, the new collection I am working on for exhibition at the moment includes portraits, dancers, landscapes and animals and is very expressive using mixed media. These works incorporate Swarovski crystals as well as gold and silver leaf and thick textured paint – I like to give all my original art a 3D tactile quality. These images are very dynamic and include blatant and hidden messages. For example, one might find relevant quotes by Leonardo Da Vinci represented in his trademark mirror image text. With careful scrutiny you can also find information and commentary about the subject, which often conveys a different message to the visual one. It is narrative art that tells a story pictorially and textually. The final splashes can appear quite violent and intense or simply droplets depending on the overall meaning. This style takes its influence from different areas including the Pop Art movement and also drip art of the Abstract Expressionist movement… I suppose you could call it ‘Drip Pop!’
POSH- I know you mentioned that it took about four months to complete the portrait of Marilyn Monroe, but approximately how many crystals did it take to create it? Is it even possible to keep track of so many small crystals?
Claire- The Swarovski Marilyn certainly posed huge challenges; before work began I had to give careful consideration to both the creative aspect of the portrait and the physical challenges of a piece of this size and weight. Because the portrait was going to be 5ft x 5ft it presented many issues. I had to do a lot of research into the thickness of acrylic that would accommodate both its own size and the weight of the crystals without bending or warping. I also did many tests over several weeks before deciding on the ideal glue to meet the specific challenges of shiny acrylic and shiny foil backed crystals.
It was a sustained period of total focus and commitment – I worked over Christmas and pretty much seven days a week. It took four months to create the portrait in crystals – six including the design and research stage. Because of its scale and weight, the piece needed to be worked on in an upright position; this meant that the crystals had to be held in place until the glue dried and working positions were often arduous to say the least! At one stage I dislocated my shoulder whilst moving the portrait which weighed 53kg before work began and 80kg on completion. Once finished, it took five men to load the portrait onto the transportation which would eventually take it to Rihanna’s home in LA.
The piece contains approximately 65 000 Swarovski crystals. Obviously, it’s impossible to count them in the portrait, as I don’t work in straight lines and I use different sized crystals, but I know how many are ordered and how many are left at the end.
POSH- In your career as an artist and designer, what would you say was your most unusual request if any, from a client?
Claire- My most unusual request is a very recent one which I can’t comment about at the moment, as it’s in the early stages of discussion. Since I am known as mixed media artist, I have been asked to produce pieces with the most unusual materials and objects, from poker chips to mobile phones and with dimensions going from a few square inches to surfaces that could cover an entire building.
POSH- How does the commission process work between yourself and Gemstone Creative and how long have you worked with them?
Claire- I work independently as an artist in my own right and commissions come in all shapes and sizes and for many different clients. Usually a company, advertising agency, or individual will contact me with their requirements and we begin a discussion about the best way forward, including budget, timescale etc.
POSH- This type of artwork seems like it would require a lot of patience and dedication. How do you manage to stay focused?
Claire- When I’m working on an artwork I’m single minded about it and totally focused. I either have a request from a client or an idea in my head which I have to transfer to a blank canvas. The initial drawing stage is critical, so I usually take my time and concentrate quite hard at this point. After this, it’s almost like I’m on auto pilot – I have a kind of sixth sense as to how it should work and I assess it at the end of every day. It does take a tremendous amount of patience and dedication, but I’m quite a perfectionist, so it comes very naturally to me.
POSH- We have been stalking you now since 2010 and we will continue to be supporters of your work. Would you keep us updated on any new and exciting developments? We wish you the best and much success!
Claire- Thank you very much for your kind words and support – I’ll certainly keep you up to date…
POSH- We can’t wait!