Most artists use paint or clay to bring their creations to life. Artist Nick Veasey uses dead bodies and radiation.
Veasey isn’t some mad scientists trying to harness the power of particle turbochargers to create an army of zombies that respond to his every evil whim, although if he did, he could make them look damn cool as an x-ray artist.
The 48-year-old Englishman uses his studio in Kent to create awe-inspiring, see-through images of everyday things from a human hand or a toaster to even something as massive as a bus full of people and a 747 in its hanger using the awesome power of x-rays.
His unique choice of medium, rather than clay or canvas not only serves as a visually inspiring image in the art world, but it also serves a deep, symbolic purpose.
“To mix my metaphors, we all know we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, that beauty is more than skin deep,” Veasey says in his artist’s statement posted on his web site. “By revealing the inside, the quintessential element of my art speculates upon what the manufactured and natural world really consists of.”
Veasey developed a natural interest in photography at an early age, the way all great and innovative artists do. He started by taking pictures on his own and actually sold a couple of his pieces to record companies without any formal training of his own. After school, he moved into marketing for a bit before picking up professional photography full time, according to an interview with Professional Photographer magazine.
He got the idea to use x-rays to decorate his portfolio when he cooked up a harebrained scheme that sounded like something out of a “Futurama” episode. He dated a girl who’s father drove a truck for Pepsi and at the time, the cola company had a contest that offered a large cash prize for finding a special pull tab in a specially marked can. Veasey thought he could find the winning can by putting them under an x-ray. The scheme never got off the ground, but it did give him something much more lucrative in the long run.
As a pseudo x ray technician, Veasey uses industrial machines, first to shoot see-through images of small objects such as cola cans and shoes and then much bigger subjects such as a bulldozer and a bus carrying a load of people on their morning route. Since the x-rays produce a great deal of radiation, he can only shoot subjects who have already passed on who have donated their bodies to art and science. The people in his bus portrait are actually the same person, a cadaver Veasey nicknamed “Frida.”
Of course, Veasey can’t fit an entire bus or 747 into his studio. Instead, he photographs each part of his larger subjects and painstakingly puts them together frame by frame. His 747 x-ray, perhaps his most daunting and widely recognized challenge among his works, consists of 500 separate frames that had to be shot individually and then pieced together with photo editing software. The project took six months of intense work to produce the final product.
“Without Photoshop and the layering process, I wouldn’t be able to make a living,” Veasey told Professional Photographer magazine. “I use it everyday. Thank god it exists!”
His works have netted him an impressive resume of graphic arts work in marketing and commercial art. His cleverly named company, “Untitled,” provides unique images for advertisements for ESPN, Nike, Nikon, Porsche and BMW. He also shot the cover for Supergrass’ debut album, featuring the three bandmates’ head shots over their exposed skeletons.
Perhaps his most beautiful creations are those that expose the delicate inner-workings of Mother Nature. He has plenty of animals in his art portfolio, the most interesting of which is a runt pig that died shortly after birth with bones in its legs that haven’t fully fused together. However, his catalogue of aquatic creatures such as seashells, sand dollars and starfish expose a very precise, symmetrical pattern of internal structures that create the hard shells and designs that can’t be seen with just an outer eye. Some of his natural x-ray portraits are colored to create a more visually stunning effect and enhance their inner beauty.
“The x-ray just shows how beautiful nature can be,” Veasey said in a short film presented at a TED conference talk he gave in 2009.
Veasey has made some ambitious plans to take his x-ray art off the two-dimensional page and apply it to the three-dimensional world. He recently helped celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Mini Cooper by taking an original model apart piece by piece, then x-raying each one and putting it together as a full x-ray model. He then applied each part of the image to a real working Mini, down to the skeletal makeup of the persons in the driver and passenger seats. He also hopes to make videos in full x-ray detail, according to his TED talk.
Veasey says in his artist’s statements that he hopes his unique imagery can help people reveal their own superficial beliefs and see through their own foibles and misguiding thinking by making them look within, not just at his subjects, but at themselves.
“Often the integral beauty adds intrigue to the familiar,” Veasey said. “We all make assumptions based on the external visual aspects of what surrounds us and we are attracted to people and forms that are aesthetically pleasing. I like to challenge this automatic way that we react to just physical appearance by highlighting the, often surprising, inner beauty.”