Miniaturesque: Street Artist Slinkachu Spills the Beans on His New Show

By James Buxton

Does size count? Many street artistswould have you believe so, but art on the street doesn’t always have to be big,in fact, it can have just as much impact if you can’t see it at all. Slinkachu may not be the only artist creating miniature installations on the streets but he is the funniest. On the eve of his new solo show, Miniaturesque, I spoke to the London-based artist about his latest works and his most ambitious project to date.  

Does the name Slinkachu have any significance?

Slinkachu: It derives from my old nickname, Slinky. When I first started uploading my photography, I had already registered all my online accounts to Slinkachu so by default that became my pseudonym.

How did you get the idea to start creating miniature installations on the streets?

There was no big eureka moment, the idea just came to me one day. It was one of a few projects I was playing around with at the time, but the only one I became obsessed with. I always enjoyed model-making as a child — I was far more interested in the model figures and houses in my train set than the trains themselves — and this passion resurfaced in my adult life.

I read that you used to work in advertising, did this affect your decision at all to create work on the streets and did you start with tiny installations first?

I first started the miniature installation and photography as a creative outlet from my more commercial day job as an art director. I think all creative people who work for others need side projects to create their own things. At the time it wasn’t unusual for me to see a billboard on the street with work that myself and my copywriter partner had created. I guess hiding tiny works that mostly go unseen was a reaction to that.

I’ve always thought your art is very funny. How does humor inform your work and why is it important to the messages you are trying to communicate?

I think that humor opens a lot of doors in terms of getting a message across. On the surface my work can often seem amusing, but underneath there are perhaps darker things going on. I think humour can help people connect to the characters in my work.

What have you discovered through creating art at such a small scale?

I definitely look at the world in a different way now. I have always been fascinated with bugs and small animals, plants and flowers. I love surfaces too and how they change over time — cracking concrete and flaking paint for instance. I think even more than ever I notice the small details of the environment around me.

I think it’s quite interesting that you often incorporate trash you find on the street into your work. Could you talk a bit about this and the environmental issues you hope to draw attention to through your art on the street?

I love featuring the detritus of the city in my work. Litter is a part of our lives, it is all around us. I have never been explicit about criticising this in my work, it is just a part of life and so a part of the lives of the miniature characters in my work too. I am interested in the ways nature and the city collide, and litter is one of those ways. Especially in my new show, Miniaturesque, I have been exploring the hidden pockets of nature in our cities; a colorful weed pushing up through the concrete and cigarette butts for instance. Both the natural and un-natural worlds are magnified.

How does the context of your work affect your ideas and messages you want to send out?

I think it works in two different ways. The street installations (or the idea of them, as many will go unseen) is a way to encourage people to be more aware of their surroundings. We are so often wrapped up in our own worlds that we ignore what is going on around us. The photography part of my work has more specific narratives — I enjoy telling stories and seeing the different ways people interpret the images and empathise with the characters. I play with notions of loneliness, of feeling small and overlooked, of the dangers we perceive in the city. In my new show I try and explore the way we interact with nature in an urban environment. Nature in the city is often man-made and planned (in the case of parks and landscaped gardens) or tightly controlled, (in the case of trees, hedges and weeds) so I have constructed scenes that subvert the hidden nature around us. In “The Glade” I found a weed poking through some concrete steps and turned it in the support for a swing and framed the image to make the scene look as beautiful as possible. In “The Stream” I found this great layer of moss growing under a crane by the Thames and used a spilt lager can to create a stream running amongst it. The images are sometimes intentionally ‘chocolate box’-like. It is only when you pull back and see the real location that the illusion is broken.

Could you talk a little bit about your process?

The process is roughly the same for each scene. I spend a long time coming up with ideas and keep sketchbooks full of drawings and notes. Once I have an idea that I like, I can make the figures. Each one is a train set figure that I customise as needed. I cut them up, repose them, add new elements with modelling clay and then paint them. Often the scene will need props of some sort. Sometimes these are found objects that I collect from the street such as dead insects or bits of litter. I also collect miniature items from sites such as eBay and often I make things from scratch. Once the figures are made, I take them out on to the street to place and shoot. I usually have a rough location in mind, but for this new show in particular the exact spot took a lot of searching, trying to find specific things such as a layer of moss. The scenes take roughly five to ten minutes to set up depending on the complexity. I then have to get down on the ground to take the photos and this usually takes 30 minutes to an hour. The figures are then left on the street. If everything goes right — I don’t get disturbed and the weather and light plays along — the process can be quicker.

I read you’ve created a new piece featuring 200 figures, why do you normally create pieces with only a few figures?

Usually I want to tell a specific story about a character or evoke a specific emotion in a viewer through that character’s plight. Often in the street work I want to highlight how, even in a massive city of millions we often feel lost. That can be a bit different when I do work inside, for a gallery show. You can’t rely on the context of the street. This new piece is a 'recreation’ of the river Thames with the shape of the river made from a queue of miniature people — as the river moves through London, the characters change to reflect the areas of London that they are moving though, west to east. 

I like the idea that you want to tell stories with your work, have you made any films or visual stories through photographs that could give your work an extended narrative?

In my new show I have a series of images that were shot in exactly the same location — One Tree Hill in Honor Oak park, London — over the course of a year, that tell a short story. It was an interesting experiment as you can see how the seasons effect the environment. 

What’s the weirdest experience you’ve had creating your installations?

My funniest was one of my earliest. Usually I have to lie down in the street to take my shots and once I was approached by a fireman who wanted to rescue me as he thought I had collapsed. I’ve also had a plain-clothed Policeman talk to me as I was huddled in a corner with my tube of superglue…

You can see Slinkachu’s latest show Miniaturesque from Friday March 13 to April 11 at Andipa Gallery in South Kensington, London.