For 36 years and more than 8,200 episodes, Alex Trebek became a regular feature of our lives as the host of Jeopardy! A fixture of our homes five nights a week, Trebek’s witty and debonaire personality represented a reassuring and consistent presence. With his passing on November 8th, a rich chapter in American pop culture history came to an end.
On December 25th, 2020, the last episode of Jeopardy! hosted by Trebek will air. To commemorate this event and his incredible legacy, Ripley’s recently acquired an eclectic and imaginative portrait of everyone’s favorite gameshow host created using nothing more than mini Rubik’s Cubes!
Who are the artists behind this stunning portrait, and how did they get started? We chatted with Phillip Pollack and Jennifer Loeb, the creatives behind NiceCubeArt, to discuss the inspiration behind their Alex Trebek portrait worth a thousand cubes.
What first gave you the idea for Rubik’s Cubes artwork?
Phillip: When I was a kid, every year, my family would drive 19 hours straight from New York to Florida. Without much to do during these long road trips, I determined to solve a Rubik’s Cube. Once I finally figured it out, I was hooked. This got me accustomed to solving them in general.
But it wasn’t until COVID-19 and lockdown that Jennifer and I were looking for ways to entertain ourselves. Jennifer had gotten a gift certificate for eBay and asked if I wanted anything. I suggested a few cubes, and she graciously obliged. We started small, making simple smiley faces and small portraits.
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Then, unbeknownst to Jen, I ordered 1,000 mini cubes to the apartment, and we started taking our experimentation more seriously. Although we don’t have any professional artistic experience, we realized that people were really interested in the results.
Wow! What did you think about the delivery of 1,000 mini Rubik’s Cubes, Jennifer?
Jennifer: The fact they’re mini cubes makes me feel better. I joke that if we start going with the full-size version, we’re going to need to move into a house.
How do you, as co-creators, split up the work that goes into each portrait?
Phillip: We’re a pretty good tag team. At the beginning of a new project, I spend a lot of time deciding on the best design. The hardest part is figuring out how we’re going to develop a three-dimensional portrait using only six colors. Then, Jen will come in. She has the better artistic eye, and she provides feedback. She helps me refine the design and tells me where to add more colors.
Jennifer: It’s the Jen seal of approval!
Phillip: That’s right. Once we feel comfortable with the design, we know how we want to solve each cube.
Do you work solely in mini cubes, or have you made any standard-sized cube art?
Phillip: Currently, we’ve only done mini cube art. It would be easier to use the bigger ones from a solving perspective, but then there’s living in a small apartment in New York.
Jennifer: The mini Rubik’s Cubes provide us with the perfect amount of detail while remaining accessible. Otherwise, each piece would need a gallery-sized wall to hold a single image. But with the minis, we can create a detailed portrait that fits on a standard wall. That way, everyone has access to our work.
Phillip: Each piece contains, on average, 800 to 1,200 solved mini cubes. That’s a lot of Rubik’s Cubes, from both a size and weight perspective. For example, our Alex Trebek portrait contains 980 cubes and weighs 50 lbs. Anything more than that would get unwieldy for shipping.
How long does it take to complete a finished piece?
Phillip: We’ve definitely gotten better since we started. For the Trebek piece, we solved the cubes in a weekend. All weekend, that is. It probably took between eight and nine hours of just solving. But the initial design process usually takes the most time. We spend between one and three weeks on the design process.
After we’ve solved all the cubes, we put them on the floor, completing the portrait. Then, we make it permanent by inverting every single cube to attach a frame to the back. We have to be very careful as we turn the cubes over, placing them on the right edge. Because the frame makes it permanent. We can’t rearrange the cubes once framed, so we usually spend two days on this step, depending on the work’s size. If we get anything wrong, it ruins the 3D effect.
How did you two find each other? After all, solving thousands of Rubik’s Cubes each month isn’t everybody’s idea of a party.
Phillip: I’m one lucky guy!
Jennifer: And I’m one lucky girl, too!
Phillip: We got engaged in July, and, of course, part of the proposal needed to involve what we do together, the Rubik’s Cubes. But I didn’t want it to be super cheesy or totally over the top—like a massive Rubik’s Cube portrait of Jen staring back at her. So, when I proposed, I set up clues about how we met and our dating history. Each envelope had the design of one cube on it, and when she put the ten cubes together, it spelled out my message.
From Ryan Reynolds to Chrissy Teigan, Jimmy Fallon to Jennifer Lawrence, you’ve depicted many celebrities. You’ve also completed tributes to Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Alex Trebek. Can you comment on the significance of these images?
Phillip: With the Ruth Bader Ginsberg portrait, we wanted to honor and pay tribute to her impressive impact and outstanding achievements. We tried to do the same with our Alex Trebek piece in terms of his wittiness, charm, and kindness. Throughout his life and career, he had a tremendous impact on almost everyone’s households growing up. With these tribute pieces, we wanted to create something people felt connected to.
Interested in learning more about NiceCubeArt? Visit their website at www.nicecubeart.com or find them on Instagram and TikTok @NiceCubeArt. And don’t forget to check out their stunning portrait of Alex Trebek coming soon to Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Gatlinburg Odditorium!
By Engrid Barnett, contributor for Ripleys.com