A HUGELY talented artist from Ebbw Vale has celebrated 10 years as a professional creative by sharing his top 10 favourite pieces to date, and has revealed why they mean so much to him.
Nathan Wyburn, now aged 30 and living in Cardiff, regularly returns to a very busy home in Beaufort once a week, to see his parents, two brothers and three sisters.
It’s a far cry from Mariah Carey, Brooklyn Beckham and Prince Charles – to name but a few - all of whom Nathan has spent time with thanks to his artwork and his rapid rise to prominence.
He admits it wasn’t something he ever expected when he was studying fine art at Cardiff University aged 20, but he always harboured dreams of success with art.
“I love coming home and seeing my family, because they often brush off what I do and say ‘Oh Nathan is off again’,” he laughed. “Not in a nasty way – they’re really supportive, and I love that they brush it off because it keeps me really humble and reminds me that I need to keep improving all the time.”
Nathan burst onto the scene in 2010 with Simon Cowell on toast – and has never really looked back.
Here are Nathan’s top 10 pieces, in order of how much they mean to him.
Simon Cowell on toast Inspired by a newspaper headline referring to Simon Cowell’s “love him or hate him” character, Nathan got to work on a piece depicting the Britain’s Got Talent judge on toast in 2010. “This is and probably always will be the most important piece for me,” Nathan said, “because it set me on my way in the industry really, and I still think I’m associated with it now. “I regularly get people asking me about Simon on toast, or people calling me the ‘toast man’. I love it, and I never get tired of talking about it.” Nathan took the piece to Simon on BGT a year later, where he went on to reach the semi-finals.
‘Thank You NHS’ message When he created the collage of an NHS nurse using the Facebook pictures of 200 healthcare workers across Wales, Nathan couldn’t have imagined the impact it had on the country. The image now sits proudly outside hospitals and surgeries across Wales. “I see it everywhere and I get people telling me it is a symbol of how brilliant the NHS has been during this time,” he said. “To think it has made the front pages of newspapers and has been praised by political leaders is something I’ll never forget, but the most important thing for me was to recognise the issues we are facing and to do something which means a lot to people. “I know there has been a lot spoken about the lack of PPE and the treatment of nurses throughout this pandemic, but I hope the image can be a symbol of appreciation.”
Mariah Carey's twins in coffee art Last year Nathan was stunned to be approached by Mariah Carey’s partner Bryan Tanaka to do a piece for her birthday. “I was surprised and delighted because I adore Mariah Carey,” he said. “I was invited to the Royal Albert Hall to present her with the piece.” The piece consists of Mariah’s twin children, Monroe and Moroccan, and was very well received. “I don’t usually get nervous and I try to treat every piece and person the same, but for that one I did have a little panic,” he said.
Dame Shirley Bassey with glitter Nathan was asked by Cardiff City Council and Noah’s Ark Children’s Charity to do two glitter portraits of Dame Shirley Bassey in 2019, to celebrate Dame Shirley being honoured with freedom of the city. Nathan explained: “Not only is she an icon and someone who inspires me, but to have raised the money we did with those portraits for a charity that means so much to me was unbelievable. That was a real pinch me moment. “It was probably the moment where it really hit home what good I could do with my pieces.” The portraits were sold for a total of £4,500 at auction, with all proceeds going to Noah’s Ark.
Aneurin Bevan mountainside portrait, Trefil Quarry To celebrate the 70th anniversary of the NHS in 2018, Nathan used a heap of soil and stone dust, and made a huge Aneurin Bevan on the mountainside at Trefil Quarry. Out of all the top 10 pieces, he says this took him the longest and was the most challenging. “It is always great to go back home to my roots and do a piece there, so this one was really special,” he said. “It was where Aneurin Bevan used to go and devise speeches before the introduction of the NHS. It’s very Welsh and very patriotic – two things I definitely am.”
Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall in coffee To mark the unveiling of a defibrillator in Builth Wells in 2019, Nathan was invited to do a piece for Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall, and deliver it to them personally. “Prince Charles called me a ‘very talented young chap’, which is just bonkers,” he laughed. Judy Garland in rainbow drops sweets In 2015 Nathan produced a portrait of Wizard of Oz star
Judy Garland with rainbow sweets, to celebrate the message of the song Somewhere Over the Rainbow. “I had so much fun making that and it’s up there with the most popular pieces I’ve done,” he said. “I received a lot of love after that – people just love Judy Garland.”
Catherine Zeta-Jones in glitter To mark Catherine Zeta-Jones’ freedom of the city honour in 2019, Nathan was invited to surprise the actress with the artwork at her home town in Swansea. “She walked in the room like a princess and was so elegant, everyone was in awe,” Nathan said, “but as soon as she saw the portrait she turned proper Swansea. “It was a brilliant moment and is a perfect example what art can do to people. That’s how it makes me feel and I’ll never forget how it made her feel on that night.”
Einstein in Smarties In 2016, Nathan was commissioned by Techniquest science centre in Cardiff to produce some artwork, while being watched by visitors. The piece is on permanent display at Techniquest. “I loved it – I get a real buzz from doing the pieces in front of people, especially when the kids want to ask lots of questions and I can tell how enthusiastic they are about it,” he said.
Holly and Phillip with lipstick kisses In 2018 Nathan donned the lippy and went to town on a portrait on one of Britain’s telly teams – Holly Willoughby and Phillip Schofield. “I have a real admiration for them and This Morning is one of my favourite shows. I love the magazine world and pop culture, and I was so excited to be invited on.” Nathan has been invited on This Morning again since, to talk about his NHS piece in lockdown.
What next? The obvious question to someone who has done so much in such a short timeframe is what the next big gig is. “I do worry that one day it will all stop,” he said. “I think maybe that’s the Ebbw Vale background in me to always worry – but I think it’s sensible to think about things like that. "I’m always trying to develop new skills and evolve, and I’d love to have my own TV show – a bit like Art Attack but for teenagers and adults. “I try not to worry too much because I am a perfectionist and it’s important I don’t let that get on top of me. Now I’m a bit older I do take time away from the artwork and try to focus on me too.” Advice to budding creatives South Wales Argus: “I graduated in 2012 and I had lecturers tell me that it wasn’t financially viable for me to make a career for myself with the sort of work I do,” he remembered. “I’ve proven them wrong because I didn’t want to be put into a box. “Of course I’ve worked really hard, and that’s the obvious thing you have to do, but I would say the biggest thing is to be yourself, be bold, and follow your own path.” Nathan's new book, POP tART, is out now, where he goes into more depth looking back on some of his pieces over the last 10 years. Find out more on his book at https://www.nathanwyburn.com/store