Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Get Rid of that Crap!! part 4: Test Shot

This one was a real bitch as I had to take multiple shots before I had an image I was happy with. But, it was also the most gratifying of the three to make. Come to think of it, EightA2KY! was more difficult: it took over 40 pics before I had the angle I wanted for that photo, but this one was still a pain in the ass. The upper right corner had a patch of grass that kept popping into the frame & the goddamned postcard flew away every time the wind blew. The postcard was bought at the same antique store as the cowboy/indian pieces used in Little Jack, but two or three years after I had purchased those. The figures were all manufactured by Marx toys, the undisputed king of plastic playthings. Their most famous product was arguably the Fort Apache playset which was available from the 1950s until Marx filed for bankruptcy in the late '70s. Its something several generations of American kids grew up with. I can still remember when my grandfather brought one to the house as a gift for myself and my brother when we were little. He most likely bought it at the TSS in Middle Village or the Playworld in Syosset but I don't remember which--I just wanted to have a battle between the cowboys & indians (the sculpting on the figures was very detailed).
The figures in
Test Shot come from a few sources: like other toy companies, Marx would reissue & reuse product when needed. The silver astronauts are reality-based on the early Sixties look of U. S. spacemen and could be found carded (sometimes sold loose in a jar or basket in certain stores), or as part of Marx's famously elaborate playsets. 1962's Operation Moon Base is one such set: ridiculously large as toys from that period were, it features spaceships, aliens, satellites, and an enormous vacu-formed (vacuum formed) moon landscape. In 1996, I saw this boxed beast at a Heckscher Park flea market for $2000.00! Two thousand dollars!! Prices like that betray the nature of a flea market. The two blue figures have a great metallic finish to their plastic and come from another Marx set, 1960s Atomic Cape Canaveral. This is a scaled down set if compared toOperation Moon Base but its no less impressive, featuring a wonderful tin pressed U. S. A. F. Missile Test Center building, two spring-loaded rocket launchers, fuel tanks, & plastic atomic generators (like they were going to be real ones). A few of these accessories harken back to the Fifties: they were featured, & I believe first made for, the Tom Corbett Space Academy set (Tom Corbett being an early television hero along with the likes of Captain Video--more on the Captain in the future). The detail on Marx's figures shows why they were the best in their field & its a shame the dedication to this craft has been lost on today's toy makers.

This photo was shot on an old slate walkway because the look of it reminded me of how the Southwest can appear from an airplane. The large grey spaces also made me think of the expanse of flat area that encompasses a test site. The most meaningful things for me in this piece are the rusted tools, old light switch cover, and electrical odds-n-ends that came from my father's tool box. He was an aerospace engineer for Grumman at one point in his life, having worked on the Gemini & Apollo missions for NASA. At the time these were taken, this was one way I was able to reconnect with him.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Get Rid of that Crap!! part 3: EightA2KY!(8armstokillye!)

The two combatants in this piece were made by MPC (which I think stands for Multiple Plastics Corporation); manufacturer of plastic toys & model kits in the 1960s. Their toy figures were generally ghoulish in appearance, with gaunt faces and elongated limbs, and were sold on blister cards (colorfully illustrated cards that have a plastic bubble, or blister, where the toy is contained. This type of packaging is still used today). Their figures were also offered via boxes of breakfast cereal and were the general object of a child's desire to obtain these boxes, no matter how crappy the cereal inside tasted. The octopus shown here was offered two ways that I know of: 1. It was blister-carded as part of a twelve piece "Sea Monsters" set and 2. one came free in a box of Nabisco's Rice Honeys cereal and was available in 1968. I got both of these toys in a plastic bag with another pirate, six other sea monsters, and a couple of jungle natives at a snooty antiques show in Cold Spring Harbor in 1998. They're battling atop a Weebles Pirate Island base (yes, I said Weebles Pirate Island) because the color worked so well with the octopus & pirate and this photo itself was taken at a local beach. The title was inspired by the phrase, "Eight arms to hold you" which was the original title for The Beatles' second film, Help!.

Friday, December 18, 2009

My Blog's Appearance

I have to apologize for the overall look of this blog: text is large in some posts, small in others, sloppy formatting, lame logo, etc. . With the exception of the "pretty pictures", this thing has the appearance of having just dropped out of someone's ass. I'm working on it. . . .

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Get Rid of that Crap!! part 2: Little Jack Meets His Fate

With the exception of the donkey in the foreground, all of these pieces were bought in a Deer Park antique store in December 2000. They were part of a collection crammed into a battered shoe box that was held together with cord. They probably date from the early to mid '60s, though I think the cowboy (a product of the Tim-Mee toy company) may originate from the '50s. All are made of hard plastic apart from the saddle and the indian. The sculpting is overall pretty basic and slightly crude, but they have a charm despite this. The donkey has an action feature: its head bobs & its tail wags when they are touched. This item was a novelty toy and was most likely available in Mom & Pop stores (which often had a gag gift section) or drugstores. Its body is made of a combination of different mixed color plastics & is marked "Made in West Germany", so its most likely from the sixties. He was bought a few years later at a 2003 Oyster Bay garage sale. The setting for this small showdown was a backyard patio and the large rocks were thrown in for good measure. Now, who is Little Jack? I dunno. It could be the cowboy. It may be the indian. It might even be the donkey.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Get Rid of that Crap!! (Intro)

Artist’s tend to have a fascination with toys that most people don’t understand. The common perception is that artists are wack-jobs and weirdos. Well, the vast majority of people are right: artists are wack-jobs and weirdos. If they’re not dressing all in black & wearing berets, they’re growing goatees & playing the bongos. Fucking nutcases. Anyway, in a positive sense, most artists are connected to their childhoods in one way or another. A child’s mentality is usually uncluttered by adult worries and I think that’s one of the keys an artist uses to unlock their talent. My early years of living near a toy store made a major impact on my work, especially my use of color.

In 2000, I picked up a copy of artist Ken Botto’s 1978 book, Past Joys. This is an excellent coffee table book (unfortunately, out-of-print) that covers the author’s discovery of old 1930s toys and the use of them in his art. In the Introduction, entitled Confessions of a Fanatical Toy Collector, Botto describes his reaction to these forgotten relics:

“It was in an old vacant, fake-brick-covered two-story house in a remote town in west-central Illinois. The house was located one block from the townsquare where the county courthouse sat. The town was surrounded by miles of cornfields and hog farms. From that house’s basement –crammed with junk and trash– rose the musty odor of mildewed boxes and one yellowed, moth-eaten, stuffed Donald Duck. It was there that I found the treasures, for in the bottom of one of these moldy boxes, were three identical 1930s tin trucks–in battered condition, with dents, rust spots, missing parts, and broken black wooden wheels. All had once been repainted bright red –probably the handiwork of some long-ago kid. They must have had the hell played out of them, I thought, and as I remembered some toys I’d had as a boy, some deep and strong feelings were rekindled.
I was a Californian transplanted to the Midwest to teach in a university art department. America had just landed on the moon; Buck Rogers was coming true. But I was in that basement digging like an archeologist–discovering the remnants of America’s past. I began to see more than nostalgic value in those toys, and the ones that followed them. I began to see them as sculptural art, a brand-new beauty, something to excite the eye and delight the soul.
The combination of colors were often bright and contrasting, were sometimes subtle. The cartoony shapes and forms seemed to be the genesis of much of contmporary art. They reflected the full-sized world but they also had an affinity with the absurd, the fantastic, the surreal. The toys had a sense of movement and history–for me, they recaptured the past better than the actual objects they imitated.

-Ken Botto

This book made an immediate impression on me as soon as I opened it. Botto presented his toys & accompanying kitsch in an extremely novel way. All photos in the book were taken outside in natural sunlight and the effect can often trick the viewer into believing what he’s seeing is real. In many instances Botto used old ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s postcards to create a background for his cast-iron cars & trucks to wheel around in. In some cases you do a double take, not realizing everythings in miniature. I was really taken with this book, so much so that I decided to adopt the same approach in my own photography.

Toy soldiers were one plaything that was always accessible when you’re a kid. They’re cheap & if they were set on fire or sucked up by a hotel pool skimmer, you could easily buy more. After I first saw Toy Story I became reacquainted with these little plastic figures. You can find them in any drug store, along with other cheap trinkets such as dinosaurs & astronauts, but if you look back through pop culture history, these tiny playthings were once highly regarded by the children who played with them as well as the adults who made them.

The 1950s and ’60s were the zenith of plastic toy soldiers and their ilk. Dozens upon dozens of bagged figures & boxed playsets were produced, most notably by Marx Toys Click Here: Check out “Louis Marx and Company - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia”. But there were other manufacturers as well like Auburn, Tim-Mee Toys, Aurora, and MPC. The subject matter went beyond the military to cover things like deep sea creatures, Zulu warriors, life on the farm, the circus, medieval knights, and the American Presidents. Television & Film character sets were also made, including The Flintstones, Zorro, Ben-Hur, Robin Hood, Yogi Bear, Batman, and even Disneyland.

What’s immediately noticeable is how detailed these small toys were. The quality & style always varied, but even the crappiest toy has an appeal. You can see a major drop in quality from the ’60s to the ’70s as companies closed and copies of originals were reproduced over & over again until everything became watered down. For instance, most dinosaur toys available today are sloppy copies of Louis Marx’s great 1961 Prehistoric Times playset figures. Disturbingly on the other hand, certain green army men currently available are actually crude clones of Airfix Models’ Nazi soldiers originally manufactured in the 1960s. The overall drop in quality is a shame even for such an insignificant product. It is another example of American companies closing shop & losing ground to cheap, foreign manufacturing.

R. I. P. Oscar Gamble