British Artist Crafts 19 Mosaic Portraits Of Real People Using Metal Scraps Found In Streets And Junkyards
Art comes in an infinite number of shapes, tastes, and sizes. And the more we as humans partake in art as a medium of expression, the more ways we end up finding to express ourselves.
Take portraits, for instance. Traditionally, you’d simply pick up a brush, dip it in some paint and put it on a canvas, but as time moved on, people started using anything but brushes and paint. Like scrap metal. Meet Matt Small, an artist who dabbles in exactly that—creating portraits from various scrap metal pieces to form mesmerizing mosaics that tell a multilayered story.
Matt Small is a British contemporary artist with a strong, compelling style—one that uses discarded objects, like car bonnets and old signs, as a canvas.
“The theme of my work is young, dispossessed people: individuals who feel undervalued, who don’t have a voice, who get looked over,” explains Small to Bored Panda.
While primarily a painter, he has also taken on recreating portraits of real people using scrap metal, which is symbolic of the feeling of being without value.
“I’ve always been drawn to depicting the undervalued, overlooked individuals in society. Utilizing found unwanted objects—things that were deemed obsolete by someone and discarded—then marrying that object with a painted portrait of, say, a young person who may feel like their potential is being missed seemed to make symbolic sense to me,” elaborates Small.
Over the years, Small has gathered a huge amount of various scrap metal types and pieces—oven panels, boiler units, shelving panels, car bonnets, tin cans and the like, found on streets and scrap heaps.
“These metal items have so many nuances: some items have a painted-on color, some pieces are a natural grey metal, some metals have rusted patinas, some are shiny, they can be scratched, dented and affected by the world around them, each piece has its own aesthetic and life.”
“Now these once-worthless pieces of metal could be used to make a statement on how we can all be seen as products of our society, affected by the world around us. We can be strong, tough but vulnerable too and like us, once the materials are included, when they are part of the big picture, then we can all start to see their true worth,” Small explains the symbolism behind the scrap metal in his creations.
As you might have noticed already, Small’s work focuses heavily on people’s faces. He finds humanity fascinating and each face tells a story. “In essence, the pictures I make are a series of self-portraits. I am depicting the subjects in a way that I hope I could’ve been seen, as an individual that deserved attention, that was worthwhile and should be encouraged to reach one’s full potential in life.”
Doing art the way Small does is no small feat, mind you. It starts off with a face sketch on plywood, blocking in the tones in a mosaic fashion, sourcing the different metals and colors, cutting it all up, and eventually gluing it all into the plywood and forming a uniform image of a face.
All in all, it’s a labor-intensive process that can take anywhere between 4 to 6 months working off and on, amassing hundreds of hours of work. Amidst all of this, Small faces a number of challenges:
“I make works that aren’t necessarily commercial, but are very time-consuming. Art should be something you put your heart and soul into. Following your own creative path, it doesn’t always guarantee financial reward. It also provides me with cut fingers quite often from the sharp metal edges… but we must suffer for our art, I guess.”
Lastly, we’ve asked Small about his favorite scrap metal portrait, which turned out to be of his son Reggie.
“I started it when he was 6 and it is only just finished. He is nearly 11 now. To make an artwork of one of my children, I’m under a little more pressure than when depicting my usual subjects as I don’t have that personal relationship.”
“All the works I make are tributes to that person, but with your own kids, there’s something more you want to incorporate into the piece as it’s forever more a statement of how you feel towards someone you are intrinsically connected to for life.”
“Thankfully, after all the time it took to make, he was quite pleased with the finished result. I think.”