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Meet The Sunderland Artist Making Celebrity Portraits With Thousands of Screws

Meet The Sunderland Artist Making Celebrity Portraits With Thousands of  Screws
May 2024
Reading time 5 Minutes

Roker-based screw artist Darren Timby has just unveiled a tribute to Sunderland's Kevin (Super Kev) Phillips

Living North learn what it takes to make his colossal creations.

A graphic designer by trade, Darren’s unusual screw art has grown in popularity over the last few years. He uses screws to create portraits of iconic figures such as Elvis, Freddie Mercury and David Bowie. Certainly a unique form of art, he explains it’s not too dissimilar to graphic design because for him ‘the screw is just another pixel’. ‘As long as I go large enough, I can get the dots per inch in there – the resolution,’ he explains. ‘That’s the reason why the finished pieces are so big, but I’m managing to use slightly smaller screws now to keep the size down a little bit. They become almost immovable with the weight sometimes!’

It all started with Marilyn Monroe – a six-foot portrait of her that Darren created with 26,304 screws. ‘If you were to put all the screws together from that one, it’s exactly one kilometre [long], and it’s about 12 stone in weight,’ he laughs. ‘That was in a gallery for about six months, then we got it back. That would probably still be my favourite because when I saw her coming to life, and the resolution was working and her features were coming through, it was a bit of a eureka moment.’

Marlyn Monroe screw portrait
Liam and Noel Gallagher Screw portrait

This form of artwork is something Darren finds therapeutic. ‘I lost my dad and he was my best mate. We always used to do mini art projects like this and we’d come up with the ideas for these things together,’ he explains. ‘He would very much have been helping me with this but the silver lining is that my son likes to get involved now.’

Darren’s first sale was his portrait of Freddie Mercury. ‘The ultimate dream for me was just to get that piece in the Hard Rock Café [in Newcastle],’ he tells us. ‘That was my third piece. It was in the Hard Rock for less than six hours when I got an offer I couldn’t refuse, and that enabled me to fund the next one. So I did David Bowie [in approximately 15,000 screws], which was displayed in the Hard Rock Café temporarily as well, and then Elvis. We’re at a position now where I’m left with around half a dozen pieces that have been in and out of fine art galleries in Sunderland and now they’re staring at me in the workshop.’ A portrait of Lewis Hamilton made with 9,000 screws, Liam and Noel Gallagher in approximately 12,000 screws and Wonder Woman made up of 14,800 screws join an homage to the late Queen Elizabeth II as popular pieces on Darren’s social media.

‘Kevin signed the artwork and agreed
 to put the final screw in place’

Kevin Phillips crouched in front of his screw portrait alongside his Sunderland football shirt

Darren says he normally chooses his portrait subjects on a whim, but his most recent project has a lot of support behind it. ‘Sometimes I just need a push in the right direction because I’ve got a list as long as my arm of the subjects I want to do, but as for who’s next, usually I need a bit of help,’ he says. With materials provided by JT Dove Building Materials and Nordstrom Timber, Darren has been working on a tribute to Super Kev, in association with the Fans Museum (a unique museum with a huge collection of football memorabilia just a 10-minute walk from the Stadium of Light). Super Kev (Kevin Phillips) is one of the Black Cats’ best loved players and Darren and his son are loyal Sunderland fans. ’The Fans Museum caught wind of it and they agreed that they would try and promote it as much as they can, and exhibit the piece when it’s finished,’ Darren explains. Having completed his Super Kev screw art (with 11,500 screws), Darren unveiled the artwork at the Fans Museum in February with Super Kev in attendance. Even better, Kevin signed the artwork and agreed to put the final screw in place.

Darren hopes the Kevin Phillips portrait will be the first in an SAFC ‘legends’ series, featuring the likes of Montgomery (the goalkeeper from the 1973 FA Cup Final) and Bobby Kerr. ‘I’ve had many suggestions on Facebook and there’s a lot of people getting involved,’ says Darren. ‘But from a personal point of view, I really want to do The Beatles. If I was being self-indulgent, and I wasn’t getting much interest from the Sunderland ones, I would just go ahead and do that, but it would need to be about eight-foot wide!’

Making an exception for Super Kev’s red stripes (and Bowie’s lightning bolt), the majority of Darren’s pieces aren’t painted. ‘All the screws are straight out of the box – so essentially I’ve got black, gold and silver to work with… and the white of the canvas,’ he says. 'As long as I can reduce the subject I’ve chosen down to those four colours, I know that that’s going to work. That usually takes up to 30 or 40 hours of work on my laptop, then the fun part is putting the screws in, which could take another 40 hours. All in all, it could take between 80 and 100 hours for one piece. Sometimes the piece could take me three months, so I try to sum it up in hours because I’m not working on it every night.

‘The challenges are mainly trying to get enough detail out of the head and shoulders. For example, when I did Freddie's head and shoulders people said there were more iconic images of Freddie than the one I had chosen (like the one where he’s standing with his arm in the air) but if I was to do that I’d need the height of a block of flats to get the image quality out of it.’

While his portraits are of icons from across the globe, Darren is proud to represent the North East. ‘It’s very industrial with its ship-building and coal mining. We’re doers and makers,’ he says. ‘I’d like to think the screw represents that nod to industry. What I’ve always hoped to do is some sort of industrial scene, but I’d need a big wall display for that to work. There is a guy who’s well-known in America for screw art but from what I’ve seen he’s got three guys helping him – one I believe helps him make the framework (which is very important in holding the weight in metal) but I do all that myself because I’ve got experience in woodwork (that’s my other passion). For me, everything is sort of gelling together in terms of what I’m interested in – imagery, art, pixels, graphic design, joinery and woodwork.’

While all of Darren’s work is for sale, he says the most important thing for him is that people get to see it. ‘Ultimately I’d love to own a big industrial-themed bar-cum-restaurant and just fill it full of my work,’ he laughs. ‘That’s the dream…’

Darren also welcomes commissions. See more of his screw art and keep up to date with his projects on Instagram @darrentimby.

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