A wise philosopher by the name of Winnie the Pooh once said, “Sometimes the smallest things in the world take up the most room in your heart.”
That explains why I almost ran out of organ space looking at Adelaide-based artist Joshua Smith’s miniature abandoned and decayed buildings that he’s been meticulously crafting over the last few years.
Joshua recently created two stunning works for the upcoming exhibition, Through That Which Is Seen, at the Palo Alto Art Centre, opening on January 20th. One is a miniature version of the old Discolandia Record Shop in the Mission District of San Francisco, and the other is based on a San Francisco Golden Gate Disposal Dumpster. Both are thoroughly brilliant.
We asked Josh a couple of questions pertaining to the art of miniature-making, the virtues of patience, and what he’d do in a real life Honey I Shrunk the Kids scenario. If you appreciate an exceptionally acute attention to detail, or just, like, really small things, this guy’s for you.
You’re a self-taught miniaturist. I imagine there’s a lot of trial and error involved in replicating buildings on such a small scale. What have been some of the highs and lows along the way?
I am constantly learning and finding new and quicker ways of doing things. There are many methods I have tried to get the textures just right for things such as bricks, pavement and wall rendering. It is such a good feeling when I finally figure out how to do something just perfect. Recently, for one of my miniatures in the Californian exhibition, I used an airbrush to do the graffiti on the dumpster which gave it a semi transparent and more washed out, faded look, making it look more realistic. Before, I was using spray cans, which resulted in the graffiti looking too fresh and solid and unrealistic. I think one of the low points was when I created a fire escape stairwell that took about 5 hours to build and I placed it on the ground. A few minutes later I accidentally stepped on it which I then had to spend another 5 hours rebuilding it all again. I generally learn from my mistakes though!
Is everything possible art material to you? Paper scraps, little pieces of metal, smashed glass…
Definitely! I have a huge set of drawers in my studio that I separate into card, paper, plastic and wood and keep anything I think might be useful. Chances are that when I need to make something like an air-conditioning unit or some other random thing I can look through my bits and pieces and find something I have salvaged to build it.
I’ve tried my hand at making miniatures, and I know it takes a lot of discipline and patience. Were you already a patient guy, or did you have to change your whole mindset for this type of work?
I was working as a self-taught stencil artist prior to doing the miniatures. I did the stencil work for 15-16 years, creating works which were comprised of 10-40 layers and sometimes taking hundreds of hours to create one piece. I then moved into doing miniatures as I was tired of doing the stencils after so long. Both art forms require a tremendous amount of patience though, so they are very similar in that regard. I am generally pretty disciplined in my work practice as well, on average working 6 days a week and at least an 8-10 hour day—but in some cases 16-17 hour days when there is a deadline!
Why do you focus on run down, derelict buildings in your work?
I like the beauty that comes from decay—there is a certain special quality from it that it really tells a story. Things such as grime, decay, rust, gum on the sidewalk and graffiti are all layers of time each telling their own story. I think it gives so much more character to a building which once had former glory now sitting there in decay.
If you found yourself in a Honey I Shrunk the Kids situation, where’s the first place you’d visit?
Oh wow, that would be cool! I think if I was in that situation it would have to be my toy collection. My studio is filled with action figures and books and would be pretty cool to be shrunk down to the same size!