Brain Pickings

Strange Worlds: Miniature Condiment Landscapes

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Spicy aliens, furry fields, and how a domestic accident can spark creative genius.

There’s hardly a greater feat of creativity than portraying something ordinary through something mundane, to a cumulative effect of pure whimsy. That’s exactly what 26-year-old artist Matthew Albanese does in his fantastic — literally — Strange World series, incredibly detailed small-scale models of emotive landscapes made out of unusually usual everyday materials.

Tornado made of steel wool, cotton, ground parsley and moss

It all began in 2008 with an appropriately mundane domestic accident.

'Paprika Mars,' the very first landscape Albanese created, made of cinnamon, thyme, chili powder, and charcoal

One day I knocked over a tub of paprika. As I was cleaning up the mess I began to daydream and found I was playing with the paprika more than cleaning it up. I thought it was a great shade of red and it reminded me of Mars. So I figured I would bring Mars to me. I went out and bought 12lb of the pungent spice and created my first landscape – ‘Paprika Mars’. My studio smelled of paprika, but ever since then I have been interested in finding new materials and pushing myself to find out through experimentation what they could represent in my models.

Another Martian landscape, made out of 12 pounds paprika, cinnamon, nutmeg, chili powder and charcoal

Through immaculate lighting and meticulous curation of tactile materials — faux fur for grass, cotton wool for clouds, bottle brushes for shrubs — Albanese creates uncannily realistic miniature worlds of wonder.

'Sugarland,' made out of 20 pounds of sugar, jello and corn syrup. Albanese grew the crystals in his studio over the course of two months.

'Burning Room,' made of wood, nylon, plexiglass and purchased dollhouse furniture. The model was actually set on fire to achieve this effect.

Perhaps most remarkable is Albanese’s incredible art of perspective — in less than three feet of length, he manages to evoke a sense of immensity and vastness, transporting you to heart of these whimsical landscapes.

'Aurora Borealis,' made by photographing a beam of colored light against a black curtain to achieve the edge effect, with holes in cork board to create the stars

'Fields, After the Storm,' made out of faux fur, cotton and sifted tile grout, with a shift in white balance to create the lighting effect

Albanese’s work reminds us of Matthew Carden’s Small World series of miniature food landscapes, with a hint of David Trautrimas’ Habitat Machines.

Explore the full Strange World series and let your jaw drop even further with the impressively laborious making-of.

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