Saturday, January 23, 2010

A Picture's Worth A Thousand... Toys?

Last night, I had the distinct pleasure of playing host to artist Steven Skollar, who was over at the Attic to take some photographs of my robots and ray guns. Skollar's a painter -- and a very good one, at that -- and needed the pictures to use as references for an upcoming series of portraits.

Painter Steven Skollar taking a reference photo of Irwin's Shooting Man From Mars.

Of course, when he contacted me a few days ago, I'll admit I'd never heard of Steven Skollar. But after digging through his web site ( and seeing his art, I knew I wanted to help him out. He works in oils and his style evokes art by the past masters. We're talking classic portraiture -- weighty, heavy, realistic stuff that both scrutinizes and celebrates its subjects in a way you just don't often see anymore.

However, he applies this technique to the most whimsical of subjects: Toys! (How freakin' cool!)

This is great pop art, no doubt about it. And what I really love about Skollar's painting is that he avoids the overwhelming irony that's infected so much of today's pop-, low-brow, and underground art scenes. (Irony's fine, don't get me wrong, but too much of it gets annoying. I'll leave that rant for another time, though.) The pop-ness of it all stems from, among other things, the juxtaposition of technique and subject, of the serious and the playful, of the meticulous and the goofy. He embraces it all with equal amounts of passion, and it comes through in his work.

So yeah, you can understand why I was so happy to help him out.

But there were other reasons to have him over -- besides my being a big ol' (if newly minted) fanboy.

For one thing, I was curious about the toys he'd choose to paint. He was interested in their aesthetics, he told me. Which robots and ray guns did interesting things with light? Which ones had funky shapes? Which ones looked fun? He wanted to strip away discussions of rarity, age, manufacturer, variations, and especially monetary value and get to those things that make toys toys.

I love that. We collectors put up walls between ourselves and these things by placing them on pedestals. We treat them like museum pieces. But if we're really going to appreciate them, I think it's important to remember that they're playthings designed for kids. They were meant to inspire imagination, and then to be consumed and destroyed so that parents would run out and buy more of them. With this in mind, the fact that they can function today as objects of art and historical artifacts just makes it all so much cooler.

(Look, I'm not a complete maniac. I know these toys are often delicate and -- sigh -- expensive, and I know they need to be treated with care and respect. I'm just sayin' that they're still toys, and let's try to not lose sight of that.)

On top of all this, I was looking forward to watching Skollar take his photos. I know the picture above makes it look like he's set up a little display with a couple small lights. But believe me, there's much more to his technique. However, it's top secret, so I can't get into it. Suffice it to say, I learned a lot of tricks that I'll be trying out on some upcoming photos for the blog.

So what's it all for? Why's Skollar doing all this work? Well, that's also top secret for now. But as soon as he's released all the information, you can be sure I'll post it here. Let's just say that as a fan of both toy robots and Skollar's painting, I'm very excited about what's in store for the next year.

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