On Saturday night, there was probably some sort of planetary imbalance in toyland because five of its stars were gathered in one spot for a custom toy show. Dubbed 5-Eyed Dragon, and held in Dragatomi in Sacramento, the show featured customized toys by Leecifer, DrilOne, Betso, SouthernDrawl and Brent Nolasco.
Leecifer turned his brushes to many of what collectors call “holy grail” toys. What are HGTs? These are the iconic vinyls you missed over the years, and now you use your left hand to restrict your right index finger from clicking “Buy It Now” on the inflated eBay aftermarket when you see them. Well, when Leecifer sees them, he paints them…like a fleet of 2005 Bunnyvans by Jeremy Fish. Or, ahem, that carrot crotch he made out of Michael Lau. This nonchalance has earned Lee the title of “toy ruiner,” a badge he wears with pride.
To people who are unfamiliar with the toys’ original aesthetic, Leecifer provides a terrific palette of brushed on (and blacklit) color that is identifiably his own. To those who know the origins, Lee’s touch adds further appreciation, and he finds that level of trust an honor. It’s impossible not to read a level of confrontation into the work, though, given he is choosing production toys (and expensive ones, at that) rather than cheap platform toys. The transformation is part of the resulting art object. It feels in your face and punk rock. The modest fellow who posed with a bag of Cheetos at the show would probably think this sounds lofty, but I’ll go ahead anyway and say it strikes me in a way not unlike Ai Weiwei dropping a Han Dynasty urn or the Tang Dynasty vase on which he emblazoned “Coca Cola.”
Whereas Leecifer’s toy transformation tactics can be considered anarchistic, Dril One’s are “pure.” (Naturally, this is a universe in which “pure” encompasses grenades and bullet-ridden gorillas…) Dril One takes playful objects and distresses them to their breaking points. His arsenal of toys for 5-Eyed Dragon took tokidoki and Dalek to task in a military-inspired way. (Bonus points for custom dog tags, LEDs and custom packaging.) No one was spared the rust, except the shiny Rambo re-paint of Le Merde’s Hollis. Perhaps it is he who was responsible for the carnage? For all this toy-related turmoil, Dril “Alex” One is one of the nicest guys in the scene. Keep a watch on him.
Betso’s custom toys are so clean, they could easily pass for production figures. There was talk of that some time back, and let’s hope it’s still happening. Even though he had some amazing Dunny transformations, IMO, the highlight was his original rotocast resin figures (4 of 5 had sold out when doors opened). There was also a cool series of affordable loose watercolors. Betso’s got the creepy cute characters down…monsters who are violent but benevolent…beneviolentTM?
Southerndrawl went big with his pieces, customizing large scale toys and creating a diorama entitled: “The Smorkin’ Bros. Bombin’ and Dunny Circus: The Most Explosive Show on Earth!” The two styles applied were very different: rusty, riveted tusked and horned creatures on the bottom with old-timey cartoon characters on the top shelf. Alas, all is not always what it seems. Southerndrawl’s “Meet the Moes” Dunnys give new meaning to the term “turnarounds.” If you need a pictorial on what I mean, just scroll to the bottom of this page for a NSFW image bookended by Leecifer’s “Carrot (Penis Root) God”.
Lastly, but not leastly, we’ve got Nolasco. Brent went for caliber over quantity here choosing to submit a single stellar finished toy (pairing Alex Pardee with Coop). The “Concept Study” next to it looked like something you might see at a Natural History Museum…a really cool Natural History Museum.
This was a great show, and a lot of work sold, which is a great sign. You can browse any pieces that are still available here. A big shout-out to Dragatomi for hosting the event (and for providing this woefully sick toy writer with a cup of chicken soup upon entry), Lee for curating it, the artists/collectors who drove up from the Bay to support (among them Jenny Wolf, Quan Vu, Task One, Jesse Hernandez and Mikie Graham) and toy blogging linebacker Mr. Spanky Stokes who FLEW IN to check it out. If I have one critique of the show, it’s in the form of a compliment: with talent like this, I’d like to see these 5 artists do more original pieces. I’m obviously a big fan of the custom toy trade, but I can’t help but wonder what these guys would be capable of without the boundaries and limits of pre-existing objects…?