Blamo Toys Custom Swampy Show [REVIEW]

I was a bit nervous as I headed over to The Million Fishes Gallery for The Epic Adventures of Swampy McSwamperton custom toy art show. Zombie-loving curator Mikie Graham had invited me to come privately check out the show despite (or due to?) my recent public criticism of customized toys. Since I really like the original (non-customized) Swampy “platform” by Spencer HansenBlamo Toys, I worried that it would be even more problematic than usual to see the hand-carved wood figure “painted over” by other artists. Overall, I was pleasantly surprised.

Mikie Graham, curator
Mikie Graham, curator

I want to begin by giving props to Graham for curating the Swampy show. It’s not easy to organize a toy art show, and he chose a strong roster for this (the fourth consecutive) Blamo Toys custom exhibition. Betso, Chris Ryniak and Julie West made subtle (or not so subtle) sculptural changes to the figure with good results. These three are notable because they approached customization by working with, not against, the form given to them.

Epic Adventures of Swampy McSwamperton

Gary Ham‘s custom also stood out to me. The tale of Tron is pretty far away from the story of Swampy, but Ham managed to transform the figure while working within its existing lines. To me, this is a good example of a custom that doesn’t fight form. It’s the difference between letting the form guide the custom versus slapping any random style on.

Gary Ham
Custom Swampy by Gary Ham

The Epic Adventures included several designers from outside the world of toys, which is always interesting to see. Tattoo artist Philip Milic‘s Swampy had a Day of the Dead thing going, sculptor Lucien Shapiro saw Swampy as a sword (I didn’t see that coming), and assemblage artist, Jocelyn Marsh, turned Swampy into a tree with vintage toys and resin. Without knowing what inspired Milic to see Mexican heritage in Swampy (a big-hearted treedweller hand-carved in Bali), there feels like a missing link between style and sculpt. Ditto for Shapiro, since Blamo paints Swampy as more of a gentle soul than a warrior. Marsh was the exception in this batch. She extended the Swampy myth by forming him into a tree with tiny toy horses for “leaves”.

Jocelyn Marsh
Custom Swampy by Jocelyn Marsh

This points out my main issue with custom toy shows: if the platform and character are strong and developed (as Blamo’s Swampy is), I’m not sure it’s a good candidate for customization. I suspect I’d feel a bit differently toward a handful of the pieces if they’d originated on a truly blank, abstract, DIY canvas. In my opinion, the stronger pieces were those that didn’t seem to struggle so hard against the existing sculpt and story. In this regard, the artists affiliated with Blamo had some of the most successful customs.

Spencer Hansen
Custom Swampy by Spencer Hansen

Spencer Hansen, who designed the Swampy character, re-carved the form and added a real monkey skull and brass inlay. Shayne Maratea showcased the natural beauty of the wood in a glass terrarium. Perhaps inspired by Swampy’s trait of sending Valentines all year round, Cortlan Robertson cast his custom in pure chocolate (and a hint of THC). Mikie Graham went in the other direction, giving a macabre ending to a story in which the central character is perhaps too trusting with his heart.

Mikie Graham
Custom Swampy by Mikie Graham

There aren’t too many custom toys that use wood, and for that reason alone, this was an interesting show. I anticipate that several of these pieces will age or change a bit over time (Dril One’s, for instance), which may result in interesting future effects. Much of the work is quite affordable and currently available through Blamo’s online store. Check it out, and support working artists and independent galleries! Click through for more photos of the custom Swampy show.

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