The Artist Creating Miniatures of Australia's Forgotten Buildings

Joshua Smith thinks there's beauty in decay.

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Aug 12 2018, 11:49pm

All photos by Ben Neale

Whenever I ask my 13-year-old brother why he doesn’t hang out with friends at the milkbar, his eyes squint like a concerned parent. “What’s wrong with you, weirdo?” He asks, completely foreign to the idea that we would ride our BMXs for half-an-hour just to share a Blue Dream milkshake at the milk bar. The only world that exists for him outside of school is on Fortnite.

Joshua Smith is a graffiti artist turned miniature sculptor, whose work takes me back to those carefree afternoons with miniatures of buildings lost to gentrification and time. Joshua’s work details—at a scale of 1:20—the neglected corners of urban landscapes; the grime, bricks, curtains, cigarettes, and graffiti.

Joshua has been exhibiting his work for 18 years. His career boasts shows in galleries and art fairs across Australia, London, Paris, Berlin, New York, and Japan. Throughout his travels, Joshua now recreates buildings that are wasting away across the globe, so we interviewed him to discuss why he thinks there is beauty in decay.

Milk Bar

VICE: How did you get into miniature art?
Joshua Smith: I started building these miniatures three years ago, a year after closing an art gallery I was running. I had previously made stencil art for 17 years and wanted to move into a completely new direction. The first miniature was a very basic and rudimentary building that I then applied a stencil onto. The second work was then a lot more realistic encompassing a working interior, exterior lights and sensor-activated interactive elements.

Allied Engine Repair, NYC

What’s the process? How do you pick the building?
The process begins by first finding my building usually using Google Maps street view and then if I can, I'll send my local followers to the area to take more detailed reference photos. In the beginning the miniatures were based entirely off Google Maps.

Once I have my reference images I will then break the building down into a series of sections such as windows, doors, walls, the footpath, roof and then start building all of these elements separately. Once these parts are painted I then assemble them all together and add the final touches and weathering, which is where the building starts looking realistic.

Each building is different and the entire process depending on the size and level of detail involved can take anywhere from a few days to 3 months (so far!)

Were you inspired by graffiti culture? There’s a strong presence in your work?
I have been involved in the street art and graffiti culture since I was in my early teens and grew up being inspired by local Adelaide writers and street artists. I started out doing sticker designs and then got into doing stencil work so there has always been an appreciation for the street art and graffiti scenes. These days I am more influenced by graffiti writers and have a lot of respect for what they do.

Do you think there is beauty in decay?
To me urban decay tells a story. Things such as rust, grime, moss, soot, dust, graffiti, old signage, discarded cigarettes, gum on the sidewalk—all of these things are moments in time in a build up of layers each with their own unique story to tell and this fascinates me.

Was there a specific building that inspired you when you were starting out?
There was an old building in Adelaide which was called the Gerard and Goodman building which has since sadly been destroyed. I have always held a long fascination with the buildings of Hong Kong though. The tropical climate there is the perfect condition to make old weathered concrete buildings look amazing covered in grime.

What is the most beautiful decrepit building you’ve ever seen?
That would have to be the buildings of Hong Kong when I visited earlier this year, especially on the Kowloon side in Yau Ma Tei and Mongkok.

Black Shadow Trading Company

There’s a lot of nostalgia in your work. Is that an emotion you like to work with?
Definitely! I love history and relics of a bygone era especially old buildings still left standing but old and forgotten. They have so much character and seem to have so many stories to tell.

Which is the work you're most proud of and why?
That would have to either be the miniature I have created of a building in Temple Street in Yau Me Tei in Kowloon in Hong Kong or more recently the miniature I created of the Olympia Milk Bar in Stanmore in Sydney.

23 Temple Street, Hong Kong

What do you look for in a building before you decide to recreate it?
The more decay the better, generally, but the main things I look for are the shape of the building, how run-down or the amount of grime they've got on them, old signage, as well as the colour of the building.

Do you see your work as a kind of archive of forgotten or falling apart cities?
Definitely! Most of the buildings I have created as miniature have either been destroyed or are in the process of being destroyed. I like to see my work as a way of preserving these beautiful buildings for generations to come to show on a smaller scale what they were like in a 3D aspect.

Sadly, Adelaide, like the rest of Australia’s cities, is slowly becoming gentrified and as a result many of the old beautiful buildings are being destroyed. There are some pockets of beautiful buildings remaining though.

10 Payneham Road, Adelaide

What do you want people to take away from you artwork?
I really want to change people's perceptions of what constitutes beauty and for them to see the beauty in decay the way I do. If I can change one person's perspective I feel like I have accomplished my job.

135 Cedar Street, San Francisco

Are there any buildings you have in sights in the future?
Definitely more miniatures of buildings in Hong Kong. But I would like to recreate buildings from either Cuba or India. There are some really nice buildings from both areas and I haven't made any buildings from either country yet.

You can find Joshua Smith's art on Instagram

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