Strung Out: Unbelievable Thread Spool Mosaics

For hundreds of years, people have flocked to the great museums of the world to experience the genius and mastery of the most seminal artists in history. Artists like Rembrant, Picasso, Da Vinci, Warhol, Michaelangelo, and Monet have fascinated the world with their inexplicable ability to capture reality in a unique way, and to reveal a new perspective on reality. American artist Devorah Sperber is similarly enthralled by the work of those masters, but instead of passively attending museums to admire them, she recreates them in stunning mosaics of thread spools.

There is an added twist, however, and it makes her work truly spectacular. She assembles thousands of thread spools, up to 60,000 in some of her installations, so that the image is seen inverted and massively increased in size. When seen with the naked eye, some of her work is almost impossible to recognize, but when viewed through a small optical sphere, about the size of a baseball, something marvelous can be seen.

After MagritteAfter Magritte


After The Mona LisaAfter The Mona Lisa


Fifty years ago, most people wouldn't know what the word "pixel" meant, but the concept is far from new. Pointillism, an art movement that followed closely on the heels of Impressionism in the late 19th century, created complete images by painting tiny dots of various colors. The human eye assembled these individual points into a complete image, but upon close inspection, it looks like nothing but a mess of colorful dots. The most famous proponent of this art movement was George Seurat, who created "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grand Jatte" which hangs in Chicago's Art Institute. 

A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grand JatteA Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grand Jatte


Sperber adopts the same technique, but instead of using individual dots of paint that suggest a comprehensive image when seen from a distance, she uses thousands of spools of thread as if they are individual pixels. She hangs them from stainless steel ball chains over the course of many weeks or months, and that is only after an exhaustive process of drafting and planning, because the actual recreated image is upside down. The reason thather homages are so large is because she wants the viewer to shrink them down to a fraction of the size so they can see the fine detail and exact replication of the image, as though they are standing in The Louvre or The Hermitage.

By placing a viewing sphere in front of her work, audiences are encouraged to look through it and see the reflected image of the masterpiece in nearly photorealistic detail, with a slight fish-eye effect or bending at the edges.

After RembrandtAfter Rembrandt


After Rembrandt (Detail)After Rembrandt (Detail)


After Grant Wood (American Gothic)After Grant Wood (American Gothic)


After Grant Wood (American Gothic)After Grant Wood (American Gothic)


Her method of creating art is not based on trickery or novelty, it is a serious exploration of the way the human mind absorbs and analyzes what we see. If you have seen a work of art before, whether in person or not, there is some neural connection that maintains that memory. When you view Sperber's distortedvisual suggestion on the wall, the brain immediately tries to contextualize it according to its past experience with that organization of colors and shapes. Not only is it upside down, but it is somewhat "incorrect" to the brain. 

If you have no knowledge of the painting, your brain fixates on the individual spools, and focuses on the structure of the materials, until it is seen through the viewing sphere. You might recognize that something is supposed to be a face, but until your brain experience the real image through the viewing sphere, you are only assmbling the parts into an estimation of the whole. However, once your brain see the reduced image in the sphere, it can freely switch back and forth between the representation on the wall, and the reversed, normal-sized image that hangs in a museum somewhere in the world.

After The Last SupperAfter The Last Supper


After The Last Supper (Detail)After The Last Supper (Detail)




Her art works on two levels, and both experiences elicit different responses from the audience. Most people have a visceral or observational reaction to the mass of material on the wall, and its colors, size, and orientation gives us a sensation that we are looking at "something". When the image is seen through the viewing sphere, the artistic or intellectual response is felt, perhaps in recognition of the painting as it was originally intended, or the jarring memory of art history class or past personal experience seeing it in a museum. 

The question that these dual reactions brings up is fascinating; are we still looking at the same work of art? Does changing our method of perception (the naked eye vs. the viewing sphere) mean that we are looking at two different works of art? It must, since we have two very different reactions to the same arrangement of materials. This is similar to the phenomenon that happens all over the world in museums. People who are told what is "important" are far more likely to be moved or interested. Galleries of recognizable artists are packed with audiences, while beautiful masterpieces lie unadmired by the vast majority of museum-goers because they have never heard of the artist before. To some degree, it is impossible to separate our mind and our knowledge base from our immediate experience of reality and subsequent reactions, but Sperber tries to pull those elements apart and get to the root of aesthetics and the emotional response to art.

Her work speaks to the subjectivity of art, and the flexible nature of reality between individuals, and even within our own senses. Some people can fiercely love a painting, while someone else feels unmoved by it. We believe in the hard truths of reality, but art somehow bends those opinions through the power of individual aesthetics. Sperber's work highlights the complexity of the brain, the experience of the world around us, and the formation of associations and memory. Basically, it is far more complicated than spools on the wall.

After Vermeer (Girl With The Pearl Earring)After Vermeer (Girl With The Pearl Earring) 


Before WarholBefore Warhol




Art is supposed to challenge our perception of reality, and also open up new ways of looking at the world, even if it is to look at something that has remained the same for hundreds of years. Sperber has dedicated her career to broadening the possibilities of art, and engaging our minds as well as our eyes.

If you want to see more of her spectacular installations, including mosaics of pen caps, maptacks and more thread spool masterpieces, visit her website and continue exploring her brilliant body of work.

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All images are subject to copyright by the artist.