A portrait can take on so many forms—a painting, a
Though Small is primarily a painter, he was struck by the idea of repurposing scrap metal, after amassing quite the collection during his scavenges. Rather than paint portraits onto the metal itself, he decided to use the cut-up pieces to create mosaic portraits in the same way one might use
“I’ve always felt the need to document the people that live in my area, the individuals that are rarely featured in portraiture, the unseen, undervalued in society,” Small tells My Modern Met. “My desire is to celebrate and shine a light on them in a positive way, to see them as beautiful and deserving to be featured. I began painting my subjects on discarded items I found on the street. For me it made sense to utilize a material that had been deemed useless and unable to contribute anymore and then marrying that object with someone who was possibly seen in the same way by society.”
Each portrait is a labor of love, with the entire process of completing one piece often taking several months. Starting from a sketch rendered on thin plywood, Small assesses the light, mid, and dark tones of the image. He then gathers pieces of metal from his collection to match those tonal values—ranging from dusty gray, to white, to pieces browned with a rusty patina. The metal scraps are then stuck to his plywood canvas with a silicone-based glue, fitting together in intricate patterns like an exquisite puzzle, far removed from their dismal forgotten origins.
“I feel like these mosaics make a statement on how we should see our young people,” Small explains, “that if we see their inherent value, if we harness their potential, if we invest in them, then they will have a greater desire to contribute to society in a meaningful way. We don’t want any of our young people ending up on the scrap heap of life. We can give them the belief that they are truly precious to the world.”
British artist Matt Small crafts intricate mosaic portraits from pieces of scrap metal.
Each piece features subjects who are often forgotten or marginalized by society, much like the scrap metal pieces that comprise the image.