Meet the Artist: Diorama-O-Rama with Andrei Stihi a.k.a. @watchfigures
Watchonista profiles the prolific Instagrammer who is building an online universe using minifigs and timepieces.
Andrei Stihi leads a double life. By day he works in the automotive industry in Michigan. But in his off hours, he creates compelling dioramas composed of minifigs and watches on his Instagram account @watchfigures.
There’s no telling why some Instagram accounts capture the imagination the way @watchfigures does. And although the pairing of timepieces and little plastic people is automatically endearing, that’s not the only reason we look forward to Stihi’s dioramas. Like time itself, Stihi’s images are ephemeral, with each composition capturing a specific moment, yet each of his minimalist tableaus has a narrative.
Watchonista needed to know more, so we talked to Stihi to find out how the account came about and what makes up his artistic raison d’être.
Inquiring minds wanted to know: Which came first, the subject or the medium?
Unsurprisingly, he preferred the children’s toy before haute horology: “Legos were a childhood thing going back to when I was three or four. Watches came second when I was about 12.”
In fact, Stihi’s more profound interest in timepieces came even later when he was studying mechanical engineering in college. The gateway watch was a Fossil with a skeletonized dial. Once exposed to the inner workings, he graduated to automatics.
Like many enthusiasts, Stihi started hanging out in online forums to learn more about movements and brands. But since forums are a place where collectors like to share stories and images of their favorite watches, Stihi adopted another hobby: photography.
At first, he wanted to take better wrist shots, so Stihi practiced, elevating his photography skills. “It was mid-pandemic, July 2020,” he told us. “I was playing around watching many tutorials for the technical part, reading about great photographers, and picking up what other people were doing on Instagram.”
But, while his skills came from careful study, the next part was pure improv. One day when taking pictures of a watch, he decided to incorporate a minifig that was lying on the table.
Of course, plenty of influencers use props in their photos. But the Lego people in Stihi’s posts are fully integrated into his assemblages. “It was hard to get them to interact at first,” explained Stihi. No, it was when he introduced a narrative element to each image that he felt he had cracked the code. “The minifigs were doing something more than just holding the watch up.”
At the same time, Stihi never fully gives the plot away. The scenarios are fleshed-out just enough that the viewer can fill in a back story. Plus, the pop cultural connotations of the figurines also allow the audience to supply their own narratives.
And then there are the watches themselves. Stihi uses pieces from his collection or borrows them from friends or brands. That means that the timepieces in his posts are recurring characters in their own right.
On the surface, they bring with them generations of brand history. But Stihi’s personal relationship with his muses is also palpable. Fans will recognize Stihi’s favorites – the Tudor Black Bay 58, a couple of TAG Heuer models, as well as pieces from Hamilton, G-SHOCK, Christopher Ward, and NOMOS Glashütte – from their frequent appearances. Once he found his visual language, Stihi migrated from forums to Instagram, where he has built a loyal following.
The platform provided the perfect audience for his combination of words and pictures. You could call him an accidental artist because what started as one guy trying to take more engaging photographs provided a means of connection through some challenging times.
Stihi sees @watchfigures as a collaborative project, and moving forward, he’d like to explore more commissions from enthusiasts and partnerships with brands. And we can’t wait to see where his stories take us next.
(All images © Andrei Stihi a.k.a. @watchfigures)