RANDY HAGE: NYC IMMORTALIZED IN MINIATURE

"This project, that started as a desire to create New York inspired miniature replicas, became a study in politics, community, and social issues."

Randy Hage's New York storefront project instantly caught my eye. This was not only due to his attention to detail but it was also the subject of the work itself that really interested me. For years now, Randy Hage has been recreating the most iconic NYC buildings with painstaking detail in 1/12th scale. His three dimensional snapshots preserve a moment in time in which the storefronts they depict were still open for business. From Pearl Paint to CBGB's, Hage spends his time recreating a New York City we used to know and still love.  It's a testament to hard work, not only the hard work of Randy Hage, but the hard work of the independent store owners as well. 

-Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got into model making.

I was studying music at UCLA, I wanted to become a studio musician.  During that time, the MIDI computer started to be used to replace entire studio orchestras.  We were told that jobs in the field would be harder and harder to come by.  While I contemplated my next step, my parents told me that a local miniature/hobby store was failing and had been put up for sale.  The three of us had been interested in miniatures for awhile and it seemed like a good fit.  We seized the opportunity to purchase the store and within the first year had turned the business around.  By the second year, we were ranked among the top ten miniature stores in sales in the country.  Our proximity to Hollywood made us the go-to store for prop and model artists in the industry.  It was not long before we were called upon to do work for the TV/Film industry.  This work fell to me to complete.  No formal training.  No extensive background, just on the job training.  A true trial by fire.  


-What are some of the film/tv projects you've worked on?

For over 25 years, I worked as a prop and model maker for television and film.  During that time I was able to work with almost every major studio and network.  I also worked making products for commercials, museums, and trade show exhibits. For a few of those years I taught prop fabrication at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising, (FIDM) in Los Angeles.  I was working freelance and everyday brought new and odd projects to my studio.  Much of the work that I did was burned or blown up for effects.  A lot of background structures and odd props.  I never had an emotional connection to the work like I do now. There is such an iconic, recognizable, and meaningful element to my recent work.  It’s a whole different way of life when you are following your own path and dreams as opposed to doing commissioned pieces.

-Your New York City storefront miniatures preserve the classic architecture of the city, which is unfortunately becoming extinct. The mom-and-pop shops depicted in your work are now being replaced by corporate entities, altering the unique look of NYC as well. Explain your interest in these storefronts and how you feel about the changing face of New York City.

In the late ‘90s, I began to make trips to New York to photograph the old Cast Iron buildings for some potential projects that I had in mind.  I was drawn to the small “mom and pop” storefronts that were typically located on the street level of these buildings.  I was intrigued by the hand painted signs, the patinas, the layers of architecture and remodeling and by the colors.  I continued to photograph the storefronts for the next few years and began to notice that these businesses were closing at an alarming rate.  Shops that had served the public for 60 to 100 years were suddenly going out.  One expects to see some closures when urban renewal and gentrification begin to take place, but the amount of closures in NY were stunning.  The neighborhoods were being quickly transformed both physically, and in regard to the demographics and the community of the area.  This project, that started as a desire to create New York inspired miniature replicas, became a study in politics, community, and social issues.  It was difficult to witness the displacement of communities that had occupied these areas for so many years.  Over the past 15 years, I have photographed and documented over 700 storefronts and in that time, over 60 percent of them have closed.  Through my work, I not only seek to preserve a vision of the past, but also to call attention to the loss of established and diverse neighborhoods, as urban renewal and gentrification displace the store owners and the area residents who make up the tapestry of these communities.  My storefront project reflects my love for these iconic structures, as well as a passionate interest in the communities that they serve. My sculptures represent more than fading facades, they honor the very soul of the city...its people.

-These models are painstakingly precise to their real-life counterparts. Your attention to detail is apparent, from the flyers in the window of your CBGB's model to the stickers and graffiti covering Mars Bar. You even have teeny tiny 1/12th scale cigarettes and leaves on the sidewalk of the miniatures. What's your process in making these miniatures, how do you make them so exact from the original and approximately how long do they take to create?

How long do they take is probably the question that I get the most.  The simple answer is two months.  But, if you count the photographic documentation, study, planning, material acquisition, and dreaming, it’s much longer.  An artist is always working in their mind so it is hard to quantify the exact time it takes.  I appreciate it when someone notices the small details.  They are often missed but are truly important.  One of the detail items that I always use in my work are leaves.  These fallen leaves break up the eye line of the sidewalk and create interest.  They are also representative of change.  I use a punch to create the shape and then draw the veins in with a pencil.  I then stain the leaves individually with multiple color pens to give them a variegated look.  Then I burnish them with a stylus to make them cup like a dried leaf.  It’s tedious and time consuming but well worth the effort.  For the cigarettes on the sidewalk, I photograph the real thing and then reduce them in photoshop.  I cut them out and the roll them on a knife edge to create the round shape.  I get a lot of funny looks when I am in New York and photographing cigarette butts and trash. Adding posters to my work is fairly easy.  I reduce the size in Photoshop and then print on the appropriate sheen paper.  I cut the poster out, and to get closer to the proper scale thickness of the real poster, I carefully split the paper with a craft knife and peel the top layer off.  Glue it in place, maybe curl the edges, and weather it as needed.

-Classic storefronts are closing all the time in NYC, how do you decide on which particular storefronts to make?

When I’m home, I spend time online and on google maps researching locations for old and notable storefronts.  Friends often make suggestions of places that they like to frequent.  When I am in New York, I walk 6-8 hours a day hunting down the storefronts and exploring the city.  Typically I photograph about 35-40 storefronts during each visit.  I take hundreds of shots of each location, making sure to capture all of the details.  When I return home, I select the pieces I want to create from these photos.  Color, composition, and character all play a part in the subject that I choose to recreate.

-What are some buildings you plan to recreate in the near future?

I just finished installing my most recent show and once it concludes I will start to sift through all of my photographs to decide which structures are next.

-Thanks so much for taking the time out, Randy. As a native New Yorker, it's really great to see you preserving the look of this city in your miniatures. Do you have any final words for our readers?

Change is inevitable.  New York has always evolved and changed.  I think the difficulty comes about when that change is rapidly driven by politics or by developer greed instead of community need.  No one can deny the benefits of cleaner streets, less crime, and improved infrastructure, but redevelopment should always be implemented with the existing community in mind.  

Randy Hage currently has a solo show at Flower Pepper Gallery, Pasadena, Ca. The show will run through November 18th, 2015. If you would like more information please contact the gallery at www.flower-pepper.com

For more photos visit Randy Hage's Flickr.
For more information on Randy Hage, please visit his site http://www.newyorkstorefronts.com