Toying with Art in Toyetic
through April 1
Manhattan Beach Art Center, Manhattan Beach
By Genie Davis
LA-based artists Chuck Hohng and John T. Quinn, joined by Toronto-based Ross Bonfanti, offer a serious look at the light-hearted subject of toys in “Toyetic”. At the Manhattan Beach Art Center through April 1, the exhibition features fabric sculptures, found art, paper mache works, and sketches, all in a sometimes-whimsical, sometimes subversive exhibition.
Hohng creates original soft-sculpture fabric bears, some enormous, some toy-size. Featureless, their familiar shapes evoke both a longing for expression and a universal, recognizable sense of comfort. A variety of fabrics and textures gives the sculptures added resonance. The teddy bear pattern creates a feeling of warmth, drawing viewers into works which Hohng says expresses a “new-found domesticity” in his own life. Having recently moved in with friends who are raising a baby, the artist relates that he was drawn to creating work that reflect family life and gender roles.
Quinn is the director of character art for Disney Consumer Products, but while he’s spent many years creating tangible merchandise based on animated characters for The Walt Disney Company, he’s also a prolific independent artist in his own right. The exhibition offers many examples of his sketches and caricatures on a wall that layers some of his drawings and watercolors so that the viewer is drawn to examine them closely, the eye flitting through many different works in an effect almost that of viewing animated works in a flipbook. The illusion of viewing animated cells is likely intentional, and offers a look at works as varied as forest creatures in urban settings and witty takes on art lovers. We see adroit sketches of people slouched over their cell-phones or shopping, as well as self-portraits and images such as a charming fox at a café. Across the gallery, Quinn’s lively, caricature-like paper mache sculptures of Abraham Lincoln and George Washington offer a playful take on these historical figures.
One gets the sense that Quinn is an artist who never rests: on opening night, he was busy creating fully-realized, site-specific wall art at the exhibit’s entrance – a laughing bear playing guitar.
Bonfanti’s works are perhaps the most poignant. The artist employs up-cycled found objects, creating sculptures from discarded stuffed toys. While there is a little bit of a Mad Max look to the pieces, there is also the sense of reimagining something once loved, and preserving what was once abandoned. I was reminded of the worn, much loved Skin Horse, or the titular bunny himself in the children’s classic book, The Velveteen Rabbit. The edgy, almost punk sensibility of Bonfanti’s work is well- visualized in pieces such as Happy in which a stuffed dog is reimagined without the plush, attached to a chain and padlock on a block of concrete.
While “Toyetic” is an exhibition that is technically about toys, the works here are hardly child’s play. The title refers to deciding the suitability of a film or animated character for merchandising, but is bound to a deeper question here: deciding the suitability of toys for art, or perhaps coming full circle and asking the suitability of art being envisioned as a toy. A provocative question, perhaps: both art and toys share the qualities of imagination and dreams. Having brought a small child with me to the exhibition, it was interesting to see the appeal of the exhibition through a child’s eyes. Perhaps viewing all art with a child-like wonder is one of the most appropriate ways to view any gallery show.