Artist recreates New York street scenes

NY.- With nimble fingers and childlike enthusiasm, the artist Danny Cortes recreates in miniature the hiphop-infused street scenes of the New York where he grew up. What he started as a simple hobby has brought him recognition in the rap world and lucrative sales, including at the prestigious Sotheby’s auction house.

“We are adults, but we never stop being children,” the 42-year-old artist told AFP. “Who doesn’t like toys? Who doesn’t like miniatures?”

Cortes works in his workshop in the Bushwick neighborhood, in Brooklynsurrounded by recycled objects found in the streets.

On his desk is the project he is currently working on: a small replica of a worn and dirty building facade. Near a bricked-up window hangs a plastic basket: someone poor’s basketball hoop.

“It represents my childhood,” he says as he touches up the model made of polystyrene, his favorite material. “Everything looked like this: abandoned, empty, lots of drugs in the area.”

$30 to $10,000

One of his most recent creations is a modest Chinese restaurant, with a battered yellow sign and red brick and mauve walls covered in graffiti.

At the door of the real restaurant, Cortes, dressed in a black jacket and a baseball cap that frames his oval face, smiles as he tells how New York rapper Joell Ortiz, a native of the neighborhood, insisted on buying the model. “I need her,” he said.

The price?: “Ten thousand dollars,” says Cortes. And he adds: “The first piece I sold was about $30, and I was really glad I got $30.”

The artist builds collectibles based on the most banal urban scenes, the little things that we come across on a daily basis and pay no attention to, but that together make up the unique urban landscape of New York.

“It just took off”

One of his early signature works was a plain white commercial fridge, the kind you find outside neighborhood corner shops, with the word ‘ICE’ written in capital red letters on one side, and often covered in graffiti, that Cortes reproduces with detail.

His repertoire also includes a classic ice cream truck, just like the one featured in the movie. do the right by Spike Lee (1989), whose musical chimes set young New Yorkers running.

His work, full of nostalgia, often incorporates tributes to legendary local rappers like the Notorious BIG or Wu-Tang-Clan.

Cortes was not always an artist. He previously worked as a salesman, in construction, and at a homeless shelter. But the pandemic changed his life, prompting him to take what used to be an entertaining hobby more seriously.

After publicizing his first creations on social media, his work took off.

The Mass Appeal art label, associated with rap legend Nas, commissioned him to make a model of a boombox ghetto blaster (a boombox) for the cover of a mini album by DJ Premier (Hip Hop 50: Vol. 1).

In March 2022, four of his works sold at a hiphop auction at Sotheby’s, including an ice cream truck for $2,200.

He later branched out by building a miniature replica of an Atlanta diner for his owner, rapper 2 Chainz.

Many changes

But Cortes’ heart remains in Brooklyn.

“He’s really captured the gritty, gritty vibe that gave rise to a lot of ’90s hip-hop music,” says Monica Lynch, former head of Tommy Boy Records and auction consultant at Sotheby’s.

Through her work, Cortes says she wants to document a place where there is a lot of change, particularly her neighborhood in Bushwick.

Now a fashionable neighborhood frequented by artists, it’s also a symbol of gentrification, but Cortes says he has no problem with that.

“I think it’s good, I think it’s safer, but Bushwick will always be Bushwick,” he says. “But there are more opportunities.”