Slinkachu’s Little People began to appear in the streets of London in 2006. Hardly visible, “hidden” because of their size, they seemed to live in a parallel world, kind of ants, with and without us. Nevertheless, each scene featured elements of our common life: that small businessman had his car smashed by a lollipop; this little one used an orange peel as skate park. Slowly we discovered that the artist was in a real world-building process. With time, we do know that the Little People have more to say than being just considered as pretty resin characters dispersed in the street. And maybe the “society” they form could be seen as a metaphor of our, with their sweet and sour sense of humor and way of living.
The Little People
How did you become an artist? Did you study in an Art School?
I did study at art college, but my aim wasn’t to become an artist as such, rather an illustrator. I went to university to study illustration but ended up perusing art direction for advertising and this was my first job. In 2006 while working for an ad agency I started making miniatures and leaving them around London, more as a hobby than anything else. Eventually I became so interested in my ‘little people’ project that I left work to pursue it full time.
Where does the idea of the Little People come from? Did you practise modelling yourself before? The characters seem to be a mix-up between the Sims, wargames and Lego.
I’ve always had a fascination with toys and miniature figures. I loved Lego as a child and my mother, who works with children, was great at giving me projects such as making miniature dioramas from cereal boxes. The idea for my present work though came to me fully-formed one day while I was working on another project. I think that at the time I was subconsciously looking for a creative activity outside of my more commercial work in order to express myself. Looking back, my first attempts at the installations and the photography were pretty simplistic. In fact, some of my very first installations weren’t photographed at all. Over time I taught myself how to use a camera, upgraded to a professional DSLR and became fascinated by the opportunities that the idea presented for telling stories and provoking emotions in the people seeing the photography.
Creating the Little People, you place yourself in the position of a god: you create a whole society with hundreds of stories. Was it a thrilling challenge for your imagination? What were your inspirations (artistic, video games…) for building a universe?
A lot of my inspirations don’t translate obviously to my work. I have always loved sci-fi and fantasy and while there are elements of that in my work, I consciously try to avoid making my work too fantastical – I want to root it in real life as much as possible. World-building is something that fascinates me though and always has. I am a huge Star Wars fan and love the expanded world that has been created for that property. I also love reading and writing – creating new worlds in people’s imaginations is a skill that I think I have always been interested in.
What are the different steps for the elaboration of a frame? Does it begin with a story?
The process is roughly the same for each ‘scene’. I spend a long time coming up with narrative 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, 1:87 scale, that I customise as needed. I cut them up, repose them, add new elements with modeling clay and then paint them. The scene will often 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 using bits of modeling kits or household objects – for instance I once made a water slide from a curly drinking straw. 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, such as a letterbox, but I then spend a long time walking around the city to find the specific letterbox that feels right for an image. The scenes take roughly five to ten minutes to set up depending on the complexity. I used super glue to stick the characters to the ground. I then have to get down on to the floor to take the photos and this usually takes 30 minutes to an hour depending on the weather and light. 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 is a lot quicker.
The Little People seem to comes directly from our unconscious vision of the American Way of Life such as ideally described in the 60s. Why this era? What it because number of symbols of Western culture are coming from there?
I don’t actually think that my work reflects American culture, or the 60’s. If anything I try to make the work universal, or at least tailor it to the city or country in which I am shooting, and the modern world, but I guess due to the fact I am British many ideas might stem from my own experiences in the UK. I do often subvert a romanticised view of the past in my work too, for instance to contrast the imagined freedom to play that children had ‘back in the day’ with the reality of children’s’ lives now in a modern city. Certainly American symbols can play a part – no where on earth manages to escape them! – but this is mostly through items that I use, such as a coke can as litter on a street.
beyond the resin
The Little People seem fun at first sight but testify in reality of many negative aspects of our society: the global model village, which is the title of one of your book, is more than an “all over the world” creation: your characters talk about society waste (Shifting Sands, The last resort), politics (Whispers), loneliness (What Brings us together and what keep us apart), social issues (Balancing Act) and inequalities (High Life). Would you described yourself as a committed artist?
My work doesn’t always have strong political or social statements, but I never set out just to make a ‘pretty picture’. I am certainly interested in societal themes, mainly I think as I am interested in representing real life, albeit in an often metaphorical way. The installations and images that I am happiest with have different layers to them. On the surface they might appear humorous or cute but underneath that there is often a darkness, or a serious issue. The images almost always have a narrative that is left open-ended for the viewer, if they are prepared to use their imagination, and the figures, locations, props and angles combine to create this. I like exploring the different ways that city life affects us and this usually involves themes of isolation, loneliness and frustration in one way or another. A lot of these stories are based around smaller issues that we face on a day-to-day basis rather than big political comments, but we can’t avoid politics in everyday life and so I know that this has entered my work more and more as I have got older.
Series of your stories testify of a disorientated society, trying to deal with both its oldest values (History), and the most recent ones (I’m leavin it, Glory, Jesus saves). Is this your vision? At the end we realize that the Little People aren’t not representing ideal society, but maybe are closer to us that we thought.
This is exactly correct. In almost all my work the figures are simulacra of people as a whole and the issues we all face in the modern world. Certainly the push and pull between the past and the present (and the future) is something that features often in my work and something that, personally, I am very interested in.
Your creations have a lot to do with feelings too: you always keep a part of humor, with funny visual interactions between our world and the Little People one’s (Damn Kids), nevertheless some or your creations are tragic and death can happen around the corner, often pictured with a satiric title (Wonderful World, Crappy Christmas…)
The art and media that I personally enjoy the most always has that juxtaposition of humour and sadness, so I think this is why it features in my own work. I feel humor is a powerful way to make people think about deeper themes. Its the open door to the basement.
Nevertheless, a true poetry remains in your work: poetry of the city (Sugar High), but poetry indeed where your characters find the nature (Secret Garden, The Stream, Dead Leaves). This feeling of liberty couldn’t be better represented than with the two-feathers character.
I guess I would classify my self as a pessimistic optimist. I have a fairly dark view of life, but dreams of a hopeful future.
As a street-artist how do you manage to deal with your rights? Exhibiting your creation in the street you give up the representation right and people can take pictures freely (if they manage to find your work) Does this liberty constitute an essential part of your work?
I think due to the nature of my work that this doesn’t effect me as much as some other artists who work outdoors. Often my work gets completely overlooked (indeed this is almost the aim of the work!) and so doesn’t get photographed by others. When I am part of a show or festival however, the work I do is more obvious and in those cases I am actually interested to see how people view my work and how they photograph it. With the installations that I make, I shoot them very specifically to invoke emotion or meaning (from the angles, light, take of day or year) and it is interesting for me to see others’ takes on my work. How do they respond to it and how do they frame the stories? Leaving work on the street mean giving up control of that work – and in doing so you give up control of the meaning and message that you might personally have meant for the work. You also give up ownership of the work – so people can take the figures if they want, in effect destroying the work.
Do you always let the Little People in the street after taking them into pictures? How do you feel to create these characters for the street, and in a way giving them up after taking a picture of them? This way, you create a game with the audience, which has to search for a while to discover it.
I find leaving the figures quite cathartic! I very rarely check back on them to see how long they have lasted. Leaving the figures is part of the work for me. They are abandoned and often lost. If people find them, it would be because they are paying attention to their surroundings – but often in the city we don’t do that. In fact, we are wrapped up in our own worlds, staring at our phones!
Your work is both constituted of modelling and photography. If the creation itself is constituted by the modelling part, this is the picture which will fix the atmosphere and offer the possibility for the public to discover it. How do you care about these two aspects?
The installations and the photography work in different ways I think. The installations themselves, or even just the idea of installations that are so small and hidden, hopefully encourage exploration in the city. The photography allows a more emotional response I think. I found that people empathised with the models and that made me want to explore how to tell a narrative or create emotion in a static shot. The installations are left and may not last long at all, but the photography is my record of those. I sometimes thing of myself as a photojournalist recording these small, ephemeral scenes. And like photojournalism, images tell certain stories based on framing. My images are very carefully composed.
You take both close-shot pictures and wide shots. Was it always obvious for you? Indeed, I think it’s something strong in your creation: the two pictures create two atmospheres. The close-shot is the “action”, and shows us what your work is. But for most, this is really the wide shot which will give its meaning to the pictures, integrating it inside the city.
Yes, once I started taking pictures of my work I always took both a close-up (what I view as the main image, which is composed) and the context shot (a long shot that places the work in the real context of the urban environment). The first shot is the fantasy, almost a film set. The second shot is the reality or the reveal, or perhaps the punchline.
The Little People are interesting. Indeed, your art is street art, it’s located in the street and in theory everyone could see it. In reality it’s practically invisible and you can’t if you don’t pay an extreme attention. What an interesting metaphor the Little People could be! It’s not because you don’t see it that it doesn’t exist, or to use the title of one of your artwork: Danger: giants working above.
This is the metaphor which I like to think about: the miniatures are the strangers that we pass by every day, rarely taking any notice of. They all have their own problems or issues, perhaps the same as ours, but we barely pay them any attention.
You work on the Little People series for ten years. Could you imagine working without them and doing something else?
Almost exactly 10 years – I started in September 2006. There are other things that I explore, such as writing, but I think that miniatures in general will now always be a part of my life in one way or another.
What is the question I didn’t ask?
The one question that every creative person fears: Where do you get your ideas from? My usual answer is: “From inside my head”!
Photography, courtesy of Slinkachu.
For more Little People, Slinkachu’s website.
Interview recorded in August 2016