Ribbons for Resin: Is the Toy Art Community Ready to be Judged?

resin toys

Arbito’s Cosmic Hobo (1st place winner) & Paul Kaiju’s King Jinx (2nd place winner)

Over the last week, I’ve watched people who participated in Toy Art Gallery’s Juried Resin Show rechristen it as a celebration of the spectrum of resin. Initially, this struck me as retroactive damage control: Musicians don’t enter Battle of the Bands for a jam session, and contestants don’t ship off to Survivor to bask in the diversity. The TAG show was publicized as a Juried event, but barely anyone involved seemed to know (or care) about the competition. During and immediately after the show, I found this very frustrating, but then it dawned on me: The resin toymaking community doesn’t want to be judged.

resin toys

The Judges: George & Ayleen Gaspar, John “Spanky” Stokes, Julie B, me (off camera)

Artists and toymakers who entered TAG’s show didn’t know what they were competing for, nor did they know how their work would be judged. And they weren’t alone: The judges weren’t given any criteria until the day before the show, and this happened only after I requested it. Why me? Ask TAG I guess. I met the show’s curators in 2008 while producing a series of online toy contests called custoMONDAYs. Excited by the possibilities of resin, in 2009 I flew to Phoenix and covered the first Resin Collective. In 2010, I got to work with 10 of my favorite resin toy artists when I curated my own Resin Showcase. That same year, I attended Toxic Catalyst. I continue to write about resin on a regular basis. You can view the latest articles here.

The Juried Resin Show’s organizers, Sean of MONSTREHERO and Aaron of Uh Oh Toys, are both talented resinheads who had the support of a toy art-friendly gallery. So what the hell went wrong???

Suckpeg Suckcars by Sucklord

Here are two sentences from the show’s press release that get to the root of the show’s problems:

Toy Art Gallery is proud to announce the Open Call Resin Toy Juried Show! All entries will be judged by a prestigious panel of toy art connoisseurs and winners will be awarded fantastic prizes in a variety of categories!

There was confusion over the phrase “open call,” leading some artists to feel like they were in fact invited or that the show was a “Resin Invitational”. Despite TAG’s marketing efforts, some of the participants didn’t seem to know the show was going to be judged. On a similar note, the show was billed as an open call for “resin toys,” but the judges were billed as “toy art connoisseurs.” Semantics, perhaps, but this distinction between toys and art turned out to matter. “Fantastic prizes”? At the time the winners were announced, prizes remained unknown. “Variety of categories”? There were no categories, unless you count: good, bad and godawful.

J.E.M. Toy

Several key resin artists were absent from the roster. Some told me that they don’t do open call shows and others just didn’t have time. But how do you have a resin spectrum without Le Merde or Argonaut Resins? And where were TAG regulars Emilio Garcia and Cris Rose? I would have also liked to see Sean and Aaron represented. And this is just sad: Out of eighty pieces, not one of them was by a female toymaker.

Guf of Tattoo Royale with Jelly Larry (4th place winner)

Another thing: contests, by definition, are events in which people compete for victory or supremacy. I was surprised that very few participants in this show wanted feedback, and even more surprised that my fellow judges weren’t the least bit interested in providing it. I didn’t enter the 5th grade spelling bee because I thought it would be fun to sound out “insouciant” with a bunch of other nerdlings. Likewise, I wouldn’t have been able to exit the stage insouciantly without an explanation of my error from the jury. What if they’d just told us we were all winners because at least we remembered to put on pants? I read a good quote from Guf, the San Diego-based tattoo artist who won an Honorable Mention:

I come from a generation when there was 1st 2nd 3rd etc. It made me try harder to put my best work forward, because I wanted to win! Too much of this grade school, everyone’s a winner, don’t hurt anyone’s feeling mentality nowadays.

I completely agree.

Gumliens

My final bone to pick: The work at the TAG show was paired with a jury who weren’t the creators’ peers. I like art and design, and I evaluated the pieces as if the makers’ intended the works to be seen as art or design objects. As it turns out, “art” was not the goal at all. Judged on art and design, the majority of the pieces in this show were abject failures. I felt embarrassed for the artists behind the winning pieces, as well as TAG’s owner, Gino Joukar, who is an art collector.

Paul Kaiju with King Jinx (2nd place)

There were a few highlights in the show, and I agree with the pieces we collectively chose as winners. We judged each work by giving it a 1-5 score in the categories of Design, Creativity/Originality, Impact, Difficulty and Craftsmanship. 25 points was the highest individual score, and 125 meant a perfect score across all five judges. Arbito‘s Cosmic Hobo came the closest and won first place. The figure is creative, unique and impeccable. Paul Kaiju’s King Jinx took the second place, with only about 2/10ths of a point difference! C-Toys from Japan was a nice surprise for third place. Tattoo Royale’s fully articulated Jelly Larry got the honorable mention.

Galaxy People

I would like to give out additional honorable mentions to: Gumliens, Bob Conge, Dead Hand Toys, Splurrt, Galaxy People, Sun8urn, Spencer Hibert, Abell Octovan and Toy Architects. Please go click on their sites and buy stuff they’re selling. I just might. For more photos from these artists, see the Flickr slideshow at the end of this post.

Toy Architects

On that note, any millennials reading this post might want to check out now, because I’m from Generation-X, and it’s about to get real.

Andrew Stewart

Some people say judging isn’t fair due to personal aesthetics, but really, why sugarcoat this? Before the doors opened, when the judges were evaluating the work, there was definitely an elephant in the room. Although no one spoke openly about it, that elephant was basically shitting on the shelves of the gallery. Whether or not people understood this was a contest, they knew it was a GALLERY. This was not gallery-quality work.

Trenton M

During the show, I made a point of asking attendees what they thought of various pieces. In a room full of people, you will always find someone who likes something, and I suppose that is a positive thing. However, honest opinions and constructive criticism are also very, very positive. This community lacks critical feedback, and it doesn’t seem to want it either.

KNGL

The piece below, by Keenan Cassidy, has the distinction of receiving the lowest (single digits) score of the evening. Per Cassidy’s blog, he made a batch of Plastic Monsters last winter and offered them for sale at $20 each. As of June he “still had a number of toys left over,” which I guess is how he came to add a 1 to the asking price and enter a leftover in a Juried Resin Show for $120. This is what I’m talking about when I say that this show was not comprised of work made with the intention of, as Guf said, “putting my best work forward because I wanted to win.”

Plastic Monster by Keenan Cassidy

That said, there was at least one person who liked the Plastic Monster. Connell, who bought a half dozen pieces from the show, told me he found it “charming.” I tried to see it through his eyes, but “charming” is one of those words like when a realtor refers to a 300-square foot apartment as “cozy”. It’s a way to say something nice when being honest means being negative. It hit me suddenly that I’ve been blogging at a brick wall: I look at toys as a legitimate art form, but the majority of makers represented in this show are happy amateur hobbiests. There is nothing wrong with that. But it helped me come to realize that I am perhaps more of an art critic in training than a toy maven these days.

Isaac Hall’s Bottom Feeder vs. Studio Eccentrina’s Puddlehead

How much of personal opinion is based on taste vs. perception of talent? Above left is Isaac Hall’s Bottom Feeder, which was part of the TAG show. Above right is Studio Eccentrina‘s Puddlehead, which was not entered into the show. The two figures share passing similarities, but Avri Rosen-Zvi’s Puddlehead shows more skill and polish. Puddlehead is an expressive head that appears to be melting into a puddle. Bottom Feeder looks like the lumpy result of a rainy day at summer camp, right down to that generous sprinkling of glitter.

Critiques by Request

A few makers specifically requested that I critique their work. Here we go…

The Prophet by Butch Adams

Above is one of three Prophet figures by Butch Adams. The sculpt itself fits well within what I’ve come to understand is a popular genre of intentionally crude resin monsters. That subject matter doesn’t really resonate with me, but my problem is more with the casting and painting. The hands and feet could have been sanded and cleaned for the show. The red and black paint within the monster’s wrinkles works, but the eyeballs and teeth look sloppy. The character itself brings up comparisons to Mark Nagata‘s Eyezon. Airbrush on soft vinyl seems to highlight the texture, spikes and eyes on Nagata’s character, whereas acrylic on resin feels heavy and dulling on Adams’ piece. I had the opportunity to meet up with Adams for lunch in San Francisco last month, and he came equipped with a small briefcase filled with toys. He showed me a cast resin “bullet” in a real metal casing he’d discovered during his very interesting day job. The piece had a nice, simple design and sense of history. I think other people would be impressed with that artifact and story.

Killer Culture Battle Pack by Prometheus Rising Studios

Ben Mininberg created the only entry that combined three separate figures to form one complete piece. Their arrangement on TAG’s shelf fell a little short of Mininberg’s intended display, which didn’t help an outsider understand their relationship. The figures are part of a story about the aftermath of a science experiment gone awry, but there’s really no way to know that without some kind of text.  Looking at it, I see an incongruous pairing of a battle-damaged robot and a metallic, biological-looking shiny thing. In the foreground, there’s this little David Cronenberg-ish bump. The pieces were painted nicely, but I had no idea what they had to do with each other at the time of the show.  I also felt like since the execution was good, I’d have liked to see them cast as larger pieces.

Dirty Pizza Bat, Pizza Man and Drooling Gus by Steven Erst

These figures were fun to have in the show. Steven Erst contributed some levity with his Dirty Pizza Bat, Pizza Man and Drooling Gus figures. I like these. I like the weirdness and the color palette and the pizza. I thought about buying that Dirty Pizza Bat, but something held me back. It’s sloppy, and it doesn’t need to be. If he tightened up the sculpt and put more time into the casting, these could be awesome. I don’t accept “style” as an excuse for carelessness. Erst’s work reminds me of early Le Merde. The idea is there; he just needs to fine tune the craft.

Swampy, Chochinobake and Oni Baba by Mikie Graham

Mikie Graham, I apologize for this crappy picture of Swampy, Chochinobake and Oni Baba. Graham’s three figures were all very different. Swampy is a Blamo Toys character I’ve seen rendered in a variety of mediums. Chochinobake paired translucent resin with light-up effects. Oni Baba is Graham’s original yokai character, hand-painted for the show. I overheard other judges and attendees of the show praising these pieces, in particular Swampy and Oni Baba. Keep doing what you’re doing! If I could put one thought in your head, it would be this: You have a unique fashion sense; I wonder what would happen if you tried approaching your toy art with that style, you know some of what is responsible for this or this. Just curious.

Dodgrr

I’m familiar with Dodgrr‘s work mostly from bootlegs, so this may have been my first exposure to his original characters. I happen to know that he was casting pieces on the sidewalk the morning of the show, and I don’t want to assume anything, but these look rushed. The figure on the left is interesting. It doesn’t feel quite finished, but I could see it looking cool as a much larger sculpture. The figure on the right…looks like Sculpey. It doesn’t feel like a complete idea, which makes me wonder why he made a mold to cast it. Unless it’s pieces from existing molds for other characters that were combined here… Either way, sorry man, but it’s not working!

Son of Sum, Stonewalker and Molezilla Tank by Bob Conge

The work of Bob Conge (aka PlaSeeBo) was, sadly, out of place in this show. I gave Conge his highest scores because I think his art has impact and originality. Other judges docked points for bubbles or pockmarks that either I didn’t see or didn’t mind. Conge’s resins are identifiably his, and though missing in this instance, they usually come with a story. I felt each figure, Son of Sum, Stonewalker and Molezilla Tank, could hold its own as an art piece if removed from the Toy Art Gallery setting. This may sound cynical, but I question whether Conge should continue to participate in toy shows. His work is expensive and underappreciated in the context of the toy scene. Looking at pictures of these pieces now, I recall them standing there as if asking to be taken seriously at a show that was largely being treated as a joke. Bob Conge, if you’re reading this, perhaps I am projecting, but I know exactly how your figures felt.

read between the lines

This post is something of a curtain call for me. The biggest benefit I got from judging the TAG show was realizing that I like art and I like objects. I like toys most of all when they are also art objects. This is a shift in direction you have already been seeing reflected on my site. I’m not sure that the designer toy community is any more ready to be judged than the resin toy community, but I guess we’ll find out next month. See you at SDCC.

14 Comments