Italian artist Giovanni Contardi isn't exactly a cubist, but he is making a name for himself by using a particularly tricky medium for his art. Contardi, 24, can turn hundreds of Rubik's Cubes into massive portraits bearing the likenesses of celebrities like LeBron James, Rihanna and Justin Timberlake.
The first Rubik's Cube portrait that Contardi sold — of the late-singer Amy Winehouse — brought in roughly $5,000, he says. But the highest price one of his portraits has fetched so far is $29,000, he says, which came last year from a private buyer who commissioned the portrait because he "wanted to surprise his wife for Christmas," Contardi tells CNBC Make It.
"[I]t's all real Rubik's Cubes, it's a handmade frame, there is a tons of hours of work."
It typically takes Contardi "at least three or four weeks" to complete each incredibly realistic portrait, much of which involves planning out a patterned design that uses the six colors available to him — a six-sided Rubik's Cube puzzle is made up of white, red, blue, orange, green, and yellow squares.
Contardi likes to make portraits, usually based on existing photos of celebrities, because he says he has "a passion for facial expressions, and so I always kind of challenge myself with different facial expression and how I can make them seem real with just the color of Rubik's Cubes."
Once Contardi's design is fully planned out, he says "it's time to play with Rubik's Cubes, and that take me, realistically, only two hours" to actually assemble a full-size portrait from the hundreds of Rubik's Cubes that he twists and turns until he gets the exact pattern of colored squares that he needs.
Contardi is more than adept at solving Rubik's Cubes, because he's been doing it for about a decade. In fact, he used to compete in "speedcubing" competitions — where people race to solve Rubik's Cubes in a matter of seconds — and even finished in second-place in the World Rubik's Cube Championship in 2011.
Contardi can still solve a Rubik's Cube in less than 10 seconds, on average, he tells CNBC Make It.
While still in high school in Italy, Contardi realized that he could put his Rubik's Cube solving skills to use for more creative purposes. The first such full-size portrait he made was a version of Edvard Munch's iconic painting, "The Scream," that he made for a high school project nearly seven years ago using more than 900 Rubik's Cubes, Contardi says.
After school, Contardi moved to Australia, where he worked as a coffee roaster in a cafe in Melbourne for a few years while continuing to make his Rubik's Cube art on the side. He posted his portraits on social media, and they started to gain attention when celebrities like Will Smith and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson posted images of his portraits of them.
Today, Contardi still uses social media to post images of his work and he has nearly 350,000 followers on Instagram. He's also selling portraits for thousands of dollars and he's represented by the Manhattan art gallery Gallery 104, where his work was recently put on display.
—Additional reporting by Emma Fierberg
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