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'Earth portrait' mosaic to be sold to raise funds for Sierra Leone

— March 2013

Associated media

Chris Chamberlain, Jewel of the Universe, glass mosaic, 3.2 x 2.2 m

A British artist who spent two and a half years in his garage creating an enormous 330,000 piece ‘portrait of the Earth’ artwork has put it on eBay for £100,000 ($151,000) and aims to make a difference to Sierra Leone with the proceeds. Chris Chamberlain, 49, reckons his illuminated stained glass micro-mosaic, which is 10’ 6” wide by 7’ 3” tall (3.2m x 2.2m) and painstakingly interpreted from NASA satellite shots, is the first of its kind in the world.

Mainland USA, which measures just 20cm by 45cm (8” by 18”), has been crafted with an estimated 4,500 pieces of stained glass. Add in Alaska and Hawaii, and it’s estimated 6,500 pieces depict the United States. 1,238 jewels totalling 260 carats – including topaz, amethysts, rubies, emeralds and sapphires – indicate cities in 176 countries.

88 US cities are represented by jewels. They include Boston, Washington DC, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, Vegas, Denver and even Fairbanks. The artwork was on public display at the ROA gallery in London’s prestigious West End. Richard Long, a Turner Prize winner in 1989 and a nominee a record 4 times, saw it and wrote: “Amazing and absolutely stunning. Too good to stay in a studio!”

In spite of having a Chinese mother who’s a painter, musician, calligrapher and singer, Chamberlain has almost no art training. The piece, titled Jewel of the Universe in homage to the Earth, is the first artwork he’s ever made.

Its glass took six months to cut by hand. To achieve high resolution, each piece needed to be around one-twentieth of the size of a normal mosaic tile. In total Chamberlain made around two miles of glass cuts – more than the combined height of the world’s five tallest skyscrapers, or the length of 27 American football fields. ‘I can’t paint, I can’t draw’ he said, ‘but I reckon I can cut glass’. He then glued the pieces one by one onto a thick sheet of perspex – as sometimes used in bulletproof glass – with a pair of tweezers.

Rivers such as the Mississippi, Missouri, Columbia, Ohio, Colorado, Nile and Amazon are depicted with hundreds of turquoise-coloured glass pieces, each the size of a grain of rice. 337 pieces were used just for the Mississippi and its tributaries.

Rubies and emeralds mark spiritual centres such as Jerusalem and Mecca. And a non-conflict ‘Kimberley process’ diamond depicts a city long associated with blood diamonds – Freetown, Sierra Leone. Chamberlain – who frequently suffered eye strain and even became ambidextrous to avoid RSI – then took six months to make its frame from 80,000 pieces of black stained glass, and lit it from inside with 6,912 LEDs.

Why create it? ‘Since visiting Sierra Leone 11 years ago, right after its civil war, I vowed to help it – in my own creative way’, said Chamberlain.

Tried twice and failed. Then divine inspiration struck: why not make a huge artwork, a new type of art, in praise of what may well be the most wonderful planet in the universe, and try to make it attractive enough that someone would invest a good amount of money in it?’

He added:

And if it sells, if I’m offered just a fraction of what I’m asking, I’ll use the money to start a fair trade arts co-operative in Sierra Leone. The buyer’s welcome to head out there with me and join in. We’ll make world-class artworks using this new technique, exhibit them around the world and help rebrand the country.

To assist immediately, Chamberlain is donating 10% of the proceeds of the eBay sale to the 300-pupil Ivor Leigh Memorial School near Freetown. Jewel of the Universe is on eBay until the 12th of March. What of the future? ‘I’d love to be part of creating a museum of modern art in Freetown’, said Chamberlain, ‘like a budget version of the Guggenheim Bilbao. It’s one of the last places on Earth people would expect that , so it just might work.’

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