New York artist turns street scenes into miniature art objects

Brooklyn-based artist Danny Cortes recreates in miniature the urban scenery and hip-hop culture of New York.
Brooklyn-based artist Danny Cortes recreates in miniature the urban scenery and hip-hop culture of New York.   -   Copyright  AFP
By Kerem Congar  & AFP

From the streets to Sotheby's auctions.

With his nimble hands, Brooklyn-based artist Danny Cortes recreates in miniature the urban scenery and hip-hop culture of New York. 

What started as a hobby soon became his full-time job, with Cortes' pieces being sold for thousands of dollars to rappers and at Sotheby's prestigious auction house.

"We are adults, but we never stopped being kids," says the 42-year-old artist. 

"Who doesn't like toys? Who doesn't like miniatures? In our busy schedules, we're not paying attention to the beauty that is around us. So that's why it is my job to document these beautiful things that I'm in love with."

Cortes says that everything started during the pandemic lockdown.

AFP
New York artist turns tiny hip-hop street scenes into profitable businessAFP

"During the pandemic, we're locked down - I can't go outside, I can't do anything. So the first two weeks, it was cool, amazing, watching TV, cooking, enjoying being lazy around the house. But then I got bored and I had all these tools and I was like: 'What am I gonna do with myself? I'm going crazy here'. So I started working on that, let me paint this, let me make a brick wall, let me make an ice box. I started doing it and every day, it starts getting better."

As he speaks from his workshop in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn, he sits among recycled objects found on the streets. 

"I got a call from Ed and the collective (CLLCTV.NYC, ed), and they wanted to do my first show. And from everything else, it took off from there. After this, Sotheby's. After Sotheby's, another gallery and another gallery and it kept going. Bigger clients, celebrity clients, news..."

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A hobby at first, that he converted into his full-time job, with his pieces being sold for thousands of dollars, some to rappers, others at Sotheby's.AFP

Cortes' first paycheck was $30. Then the amount got higher and higher.

"Wow... I got $30... I'm gonna make more now. Wait a second, now somebody else is willing to give me $30... Oh this other guy wanna give me $30? I got $90 now! I was so happy... Then that same ice box right now would cost $1,500 or $2,000. So we came a long way!"

On his table is his current project: the tiny replica of a worn and dirty building facade. Near a bricked-in window, a plastic bushel basket had been hung: a poor man's basketball hoop.

"This represents my childhood," Cortes says, putting the finishing touches to the model in his preferred medium, polystyrene.

"So everywhere we went, everything looked like this: abandoned, empty, lot of drugs in the area. So this represents my childhood because sometimes we could not go to the park and play, it was dangerous to go to the park."

Cortes says his neighborhood has changed a lot as time passed. But there are more opportunities now in the area.

"There is a lot of change (in Bushwick), a lot of gentrification. A lot of people see it different, won't have the same views as me, but I think it's good. I think it's safer, even though Bushwick is always gonna be Bushwick - but there are more opportunities."

Check out the video above for footage of Danny Cortes' artwork and studio.

Video editor • Kerem Congar