Last month several people sent me links to this amazing Martin Luther King mosaic made up Rubik’s Cubes. I knew I wanted to talk to the artist behind the Dream Big project, which placed in the top 50 out of more than 1700 entrants in the 2010 ArtPrize competition. Pete Fecteau is a graphic designer who literally dreamed up the idea of creating the 1000-pound tribute to the world’s most famous dreamer, and then fought hard to get it made. In the conversation below, he describes the process he went through and what he’s been doing since, along with offering up some advice for young artists (Rubik’s Cube or otherwise).
Everybody’s Invited!: What’s the story behind the Dream Big project?
Pete Fecteau: I came up with the concept literally in a dream. I’d been taking some hits, trying really hard to find work, and wasn’t having a great time professionally. This dream came about, and I just felt like I needed to do it. So I fought for eight or nine months to try to get anyone to pay attention to it. And no one did. I had actually set a due date for myself. And a week after the due date passed, I got a call from Rubik’s asking me for details on the project.
EI!: That’s awesome. What were the biggest challenges in putting it together?
PF: Planning it out and convincing people was a huge process. I’m a graphic designer by day. I spent about two or three weeks designing the artwork in Photoshop and Illustrator. There weren’t really grant opportunities for it, but I applied for grants all over the place. I talked with a bunch of people, including manufacturers in China. I ended up renting the Rubik’s Cubes, though, because there’s a trademark and copyright issue with knock-off cubes. So I avoided jailtime.
EI!: Nice. How many did you rent?
PF: Just over 4300 Rubik’s Cubes.
EI!: So, how did you put it together?
PF: The venue that I used was the First Park Congregational church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The church wanted it on a stage. They gave me the entire room behind the stage, so I could work for three weeks at all hours. It was hot. It was a little smelly. I’d come in for 5, 6, 7, or 8 hours and just kind of zone out.
EI!: Did you need to actually solve the cubes yourself?
PF: I’m just solving one face. It takes about 20 seconds per cube. Someone could probably do it faster than me because I’m not a very fast cuber. I came up with a process where I could very quickly look at the cube that was on the screen, and remember the colors that I need to orient the cube. I was doing about 100 cubes every 45 minutes. Then I’d go take a break, and come back and do it again.
It was really quiet. I didn’t have a lot of distractions. It was just me, the computer, and the cubes.
EI!: Since then, you’ve been doing more Rubik’s Cube-based stuff?
PF: Yeah, we set up a partnership with You Can Do the Rubik’s Cube, which is an organization that puts kits in classrooms for kids ages 9 to 15. They learn how to solve the cube, and they apply math and life skills during the process. Part of the agreement that we had was that I would develop some educational material for them. So I developed a 12-page guidebook that teaches kids how to create a mosaic. I think it’s doubled their program. We’ve gotten a ton of requests from schools. We did one for Odyssey of the Mind.
EI!: I remember Odyssey of the Mind! So, is this taking up most of your time right now?
PF: This has always been a side project. I’m planning another very large mosaic in 2013. It will be twice the size of the MLK one. It’s got a math and science theme to it. And hopefully we’ll take it on tour.
EI!: Have you considered working with other games? Like Jenga.
PF: I would love to do that. Rubik’s is probably the most complex mosaic medium. I’m actually not a huge Rubik’s Cube nerd. I’ve met some speed cubers, and I’ve seen collections and all that stuff.
EI!: Yeah, some people are crazy.
PF: Yup, and that’s great. We need them, too.
EI!: So true. What’s one piece of advice you’d give to a young, struggling artist?
PF: Don’t be afraid to explore. You might really like to do pencil drawings, but you might have a huge gift with water colors. For me, I was trying to do enamel work and graffiti-style stuff. And I just stumbled into doing Rubik’s Cube stuff.
EI!: Another lesson is to pay attention to your dreams.
PF: Yeah, and it goes beyond that. There were so many times with the Martin Luther King mosaic when I was ready to throw in the towel. I had fought so hard, and fell short so many times. But, in the end, it was like the mosaic itself just needed to be finished, and I was just a pair of hands. When you really apply yourself to a passion that you have, and if it’s genuine, I think that will always be the case. There will be times when you want to pull your hair out, but if you keep going, it will turn around.