Hyperrealistic Paper Sculptures Capture the Memory of Buildings

The only constant in cities in change—for the better or worse. That irks Philadelphia-based artist Drew Leshko. He meticulously recreates buildings he sees around him as a response to the morphing architectural composition of his neighborhood, Fishtown. The forces of gentrification have radically changed the area, so he constructed a personal archive of the past—a way to preserve Philly’s historic fabric before the wrecking ball hits. “As buildings are destroyed, your memory is all that’s left of them,” Leshko says.

First, the artist takes photographs of structures, skewing toward buildings that look like relics from bygone eras. The ones with detailed cornices, old-school craggy facades, sturdy materials, and layers of signage. He’s seen many of these buildings razed and banal new construction go up in their place. Leshko then uses paper and found materials to faithfully mimic the snapshot. (He often documents the process on his Instagram.) He cuts up glossy photos to stand in for tile. To achieve the texture of stucco, he applies a thin layer of plaster to the paper. Sawdust from his workshop mixed with glue becomes particle board. Nothing comes from a model kit or is pre-made. About midway through the sculpture, he abandons the image and works from memory. “You remember some elements but not every detail, he says. “It’s a commentary on memory loss and how we think of things when we look back.”

Leshko hopes that the series will spur people to notice their surroundings, whether it’s good or bad, significant or mundane. “What’s important is just to acknowledge the present day since everything is in flux,” he says. “New construction is paper thin, kind of like my sculptures are.”