Joshua Smith Collaborates with Bezt for a Miniature Mural Project in Poland
Joshua Smith is an artist who works in tiny proportions. He finds the dirtiest, most dilapidated and run-down building, then brings it down to scale. He uses the method of scratch-building to construct miniature models of decaying structures and replicate every fine detail. From the broken windows and cracked plaster to rusted pipes and tattered wallpaper, Joshua spots it all. In the past, Joshua has recreated a milk bar in Sydney, a bodega in Brooklyn, a record shop on Mission St in San Francisco, and even an apartment building in Hong Kong.
For his latest project, Joshua was approached by Polish street artist Bezt, who asked to collaborate on a piece in secret. Since April, the two have been communicating back and forth to decide on a location, scratch-build a structure, and have a mural painted on its side. After constructing a wall and sending it to Bezt for the mural, Joshua spent two months working tirelessly, sometimes up to 18 hours a day.
We spoke to Joshua and asked about his practice, the process behind this piece, and his further explorations and inspirations.
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Some video footage I took the other day of my collaboration work with @bezt_etam taken in natural daylight. This work will be on display at @kirkgallery from November 30th in Denmark More photos of the finished work over the following days! #miniature #urbandecay #abandoned #shopfront #facade #scalemodel #scratchbuilt #iknowjoshuasmith #joshuasmithminiature #dollhouse #architecture #bezt #kirkgallery #lodz #poland
Colin McCracken: To start off, what is scratch-building?
Joshua Smith: Scratch-building is when you create something using basic materials, such as plastic, balsa wood, fireboard, and other materials. There are model kits with certain parts you can buy, but I mainly choose to avoid those and build each part myself.
What does your process look like, and what is the most time-consuming part? I read that you once spent a day counting the bricks in front of a commercial strip on Queen St. for a piece. That is some serious attention to detail and dedication to authentic replication.
With this build, it was based entirely on Google Maps Streetview. I've never actually been to Poland, so I sent some contacts to the actual location, only to find the building actually no longer exists and has been made into apartments.
Once I have reference images or use Google Maps, I pour over every small conceivable detail. If it's there, I want to build it, to try and get it as realistic and authentic as possible.
However, because I'm self-taught, I'm constantly experimenting with my work. So it takes time to perfect, especially when doing something for the first time. For example, I created every brick on the miniature using a silicone mold (which I also made), plaster of Paris, and terracotta oxide. I cast hundreds of tiny bricks, which were then glued in place on the facade.
This was the first time I tried to build any molds, so working out what I needed to buy, how to mix the chemicals, make a mold, and then mix the right amounts of plaster and color to make the bricks took weeks to do. I remember I needed a very specific shade of terracotta/orange to match the bricks on the real building, and I must have rang about 10 stores to finally find the one and only store in my city that sold that very specific shade of color for the brick mixture!
So you focus on decrepit, aging buildings for these scratch-built miniatures. Why do you think that is? What details initially draw you toward a building?
The more decrepit or run-down the building is, the more I want to build it. New and clean buildings are generally boring. Those that are covered in graffiti or have broken windows–in this case, crumbling plaster–are a lot more visually interesting and tell much more of a history and story.
Most people would think it is an eyesore. To me, it is a thing of beauty.
I noticed your interest in graffiti as well. It must have been rewarding to have Bezt approach you to collaborate on this project. What was the initial discussion like?
It was really cool! I had previously worked with a lot of graffiti writers from Hong Kong, Taiwan, LA, SF, NYC and NOLA, but to have a high profile street artist and muralist, like Bezt, approach me out of the blue was a mindblowing game-changer. I think one of the hardest things was keeping it a secret for so long! My closest friends, my partner and my parents were about the only ones who knew until we revealed it to the world.
I assume Bezt picked the building since it is located in Lodz, but maybe I’m wrong. What was the decision process like? Who chose the building, and why?
When Bezt approached me, I knew he lived or had previously lived in Lodz, so I suggested we create something from there, as a lot of his murals have been painted there. He agreed that was a cool idea, so I set about with the mission of finding a location using Google Maps. I found a bunch of locations and emailed him suggestions. Ideas went back and forth, and the project had been on and off for over a year as we both worked on separate projects and exhibitions.
Then one morning while driving around in Google Maps Streetview, it hit me. There it was, the perfect building in all of its majestic beauty. As soon as I saw it, I knew that was what I had to build. I immediately sent the location to my girlfriend, best friend and Bezt, and they were all like, "Hell yes!" What's funny is that it was literally two streets over from where I had been searching in previous months!
Do you have any background history on the previous building? I found a screenshot from Google Maps Streetview, but nothing on the actual address or what occupied the building before it turned to its dilapidated state. For example, it seems you were able to identify a graffiti writer who originally tagged the building. How were you able to figure that out?
I try and find out as much as I can, but usually, it’s when I start building something that people tell me the history of what I am building. For example, I made a miniature based on the Globe Slicers building in the Bowery District of New York, and I had Chris Stein from the band Blondie get in touch with me and say the band and himself used to have their apartment above the store!
For this work, it was the artists themselves who had seen a picture of the building through Instagram and contacted me, personally, about having had their work on it. It was part of a larger art project in which they wrote slogans, statements and observations onto walls and buildings. The graffiti, “nieoczywiste piękno,” translates to, "no obvious beauty," which I think is a perfect fit for the building because, to the casual observer, it is just a crumbling building, but it has its own hidden beauty.
That’s a trip, to get random messages from other artists who are fascinated by your miniatures and even inhabited the real thing. By the way, what are the dimensions of the piece?
Approximately 22 inches wide x 21 inches deep x 21 inches high.
Do you have any ambitious goals for the future? Like replicating an entire street or ghost town?
I have such a long list of builds I want to make, it isn't funny. I think it is more a question of volume of the number of buildings rather than a large building. Although one day, I will build the now long-gone Kowloon Walled City.
Are there any artists who currently inspire you or have in the past?
It's funny, when I started I was unaware that anyone else was doing anything similar. But then I found a bunch of artists who do amazing work and really inspire me, including Ryan Monahan, Alan Wolfson (the godfather of urban miniatures), Randy Hage, Rafael Raws, Tokyo Build, Hank Cheng, Shunichi Matsuba, Grandmondo Miniatures, Walls from the Past aka Emmanuel Nouaitillier, Edon Tuazon Fabreo, Cino Pernice, Chris Toledo and Francesca Passeri, just to name a few. There are so many more, but they are the best in the world.
Joshua Smith and Bezt's miniature collaboration will be on view at KIRK Gallery in Denmark as part of a group show entitled Up The Wall. The exhibition opens November 30, with a reception from 12 to 2 pm, and is on view through January 18, 2020.
All Photography by Andrew Beveridge