Artist’s Studio: Nick Veasey

By Caiti Grove

4 months ago

The artist created a new medium of fine art when he experimented with an X-ray machine

Caiti Grove chats to pioneering X-ray artist Nick Veasey about his career, his younger self, and his new exhibition.

Interview: Nick Veasey

Artist Nick Veasey standing in front of one of his pieces, an X ray of a car.

Nick Veasey is frank about his younger self. ‘I was obsessive. I was on a mission, I was going to change the world through X-ray,’ he admits. ‘To be really good in the creative world, you have to go through that phase.’

For five years, he dreamt in monochrome X-ray and lied to journalists about his process to prevent theft by copycat artists. One New York Times fact-checker resorted to phoning Nick in exasperation to quiz him about his (entirely fictional) machinery.

Nick discovered the art of the X-ray when his wife Zoe worked on The Big Breakfast with Johnny Vaughan. When Pepsi launched a marketing campaign to find a specific ring pull for a £100,000 prize, Vaughan sat in a truckload of the cans to tell viewers how to scam the brand to win the cash prize. ‘A bit like the Willy Wonka story,’ Nick smiles. His job was to X-ray the cans to find the Golden Ticket ring pull. Fortuitously, Nick and Zoe’s landlord had his own X-ray business, testing the safety of car wheels and aircraft landing equipment. Nick hired the machine and a technician to do his Pepsi project. The X-ray was complete with another seven hours left to play with.

‘The X-ray technician, Lesley, asked, “what you want to do now?”’ Nick recalls of that day. ‘So we tried all sorts of stuff: my shoes, her hat, bags, just whatever was lying about.’ With these images, Nick went to Madison Avenue in New York to present his portfolio to ad agencies. A few were interested. ‘They’re quite open like that, the Americans,’ he explains. Adverts for Apple and Adobe followed, the unseen electronic wizardry explained in X-ray form for the first time. Ten years later, the commercial work tailed off but galleries started calling. ‘They called it fine art, not me. They said, “your work is good enough to show in an art gallery, what about an exhibition?”’

Since then, he has X-rayed a skeleton who appears as different characters, from a Rat Pack-style performer to a guy in his living room complete with stereo system and headphones, and has taken apart Mini Cooper cars to photograph them piece by piece, before assembling the image back together digitally, a passenger in skeleton form – with a handbag – seated in the back. His work has been on the cover of Time magazine and he also recently collaborated with Alexander McQueen for its SS23 show.

In 2018, Veasey collaborated with the V&A for its Balenciaga exhibition. He X-rayed the couturier’s famous dresses to show handiwork concealed from the naked eye. Cristóbal Balenciaga gave only two interviews in his lifetime, and in one proudly stated that he used only fabric to pull in a waist and create his famous silhouettes, unlike his competitor Christian Dior who used whalebone and corsets. But Veasey’s X-ray of a Balenciaga dress made for actress Ava Gardner proved otherwise: he had used all of the tricks available, and the boning and underwire is indisputable. 

Nick remembers the first challenge of the project: nothing could leave the V&A. ‘I had to find a way of taking the mountain to Mohammed. I’ve got a lorry with an X-ray machine in the back with a lead box and I drove it up to the V&A fashion store in Hammersmith. I was there for one week for Balenciaga, but we stayed over two months,’ he remembers, as museum staff realised the value of the opportunity to see inside exhibit pieces.

Veasey’s new exhibition, Forensic Beauty, in Mayfair gallery Bluerider ART, celebrates British culture – from distorting mirrors, Punch & Judy puppets to jackets from Pearly Kings and Queens – each button clear and exact in the X-ray shot. ‘London’s my town, I love London,’ he tells me. ‘I’ve got the opportunity to say “thanks”. To London, to my family, to my country. I want to do things that are British, not just global.’ As he looks back at how it all started, he reflects, ‘The door was open, I walked through it. I didn’t find the X-ray. The X-ray found me.’

Forensic Beauty is on until 17 February.