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Hunting for mini artworks on New York’s streets

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Artist Steve Wasterval poses with a mini painting in his studio in Greenpoint, in Brooklyn, New York, on May 25, 2021. He will hide it in the neighborhood for people to find./AFP
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May 28, 2021 - 09:12 AM

NEW YORK — Filmmaker Zack Obid trembles with excitement: he has just found a miniature work of art during a treasure hunt that an American artist organizes every week in his Brooklyn neighborhood.

Steve Wasterval estimates that in the last three years he has painted and hidden about 80 tiny landscape drawings of Greenpoint, an area with a large Polish community seen as increasingly hip in recent times with young creatives moving in.

“I really wanted to give my art away. I wanted to put it up on walls and out in the street,” says Wasterval, 40, at his studio inside a former Faber Castell pencil factory.

“I remember thinking they should be tiny paintings so I can hide them and people can find them and I can find as many as I want,” he adds.

Typically, every weekend at an unspecified time, Wasterval publishes on his Instagram account a photo of a landscape in front of the spot that inspired the work, always in Greenpoint.

Within minutes, a dozen people arrive at the scene and start looking for the work everywhere, from behind a wall to on a fire escape.

Sometimes, Wasterval is close by, sometimes not. If asked for help, he sends the treasure hunters clues through direct messages on Instagram.

The paintings are about five centimeters by 3.8 centimeters (2 inches by 1.5 inches). He finishes them in around an hour and says he will never sell them.

“Every week people message me that they want to buy one, commission them. No, never, never,” insists Wasterval.

“You have to find them. They’re like little trophies people show off.”

Wasterval wants to document his neighborhood as it transforms, socialize with his neighbors and have fun.

Fun 

It’s also a way for him to disseminate his larger artworks, typically 60 x 90 cm and 75 x 100 cm, which sell for $2,000 and $3,000 respectively.

“The idea is to keep doing it like forever,” he said of the hunts.

“It’s a marketing thing but it is a fun one because it doesn’t feel like one. I want to keep it like that.”

This time, Wasterval had chosen to paint the corner of the popular neighborhood pizzeria Paulie Gee’s.

In a park, among children playing hide and seek, he hides the small painting under a flower pot.

A couple of minutes later, Obid, a 27-year-old documentary filmmaker who lives a block away, arrives.

He frantically searches everywhere as other people start to turn up, some on bicycles. Every few seconds they stop to check their phones for new clues from Wasterval.

After about ten minutes, Obid shouts and laughs as he finds the painting — his fifth in three years.

“It’s a piece of art that means a lot to you,” he says, noting that not only is it original but it is also of “home.”

Lisa Llanes, a 38-year-old graphic designer, recently won two hunts but was too late this time.

“They are such cute little pieces of art!” she says.

Wasterval hopes to hold an exhibition with all the “minis,” as he calls them, on loan from the winners of the hunts.

He also plans to expand the project to the rest of the city.

“People ask me to go to different neighborhoods. I’m going to extend the radius slowly,” he says.

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