Malcolm Morley “Approaching Valhalla”
“The toy is the child’s earliest initiation to art, or rather for him it is the first concrete example of art, and when mature age comes, the perfect examples will not give his mind the same feelings of warmth, nor the same enthusiasms, nor the same sense of conviction.”
-Charles Baudelaire, French Poet
In contemporary life, toys have been largely replaced by gadgets and product placements, just as art had been replaced by commodities and brand name recognition.
The degradation of simple enriching joys into ugly trends is an unfortunate characteristic of this age, but it is not irreversible. The sense of wonder and play that both real toys and good art can create is accessible to authentic individuals who still value curiosity.
English artist Malcolm Morley understands the power and use of toys, and applies it in his art. Much of the content of his paintings are based off of toys he’s found, or created himself.
“All toys are icons to begin with…I don’t call them toys. I like to call them models. The thing about so-called ‘toys’ is that there is an unconsciousness in society that comes out in its toys. Toys represent an archetype of the human figure…it is the underbelly of society of which it is not aware. So it is unguarded. These things are more than toys. The other factor is their scale in relation to you. Your perception of yourself in relation to these figures is that you are giant, like a God with an omnipotent view.”
He traces this fascintation with toys to a formative event from his youth. As a boy in WWII London, Morley build a balsa wood model ship and set it on his windowsill, intending to paint it the next day. That night a German bomb blew the front of his house off; the boat was destroyed.
Morley’s work has evolved throughout his career; in the 1960s he could be said to have invented Photorealism, though he never accepted that label. At first he painted ships-or rather, he painted from postcard pictures of ships.
Malcolm Morley “SS Amsterdam in Front of Rotterdam”
But through the years Morley incorporated toys into his artwork: using lead soldiers, kachina dolls and miniature cowboys as subjects for paintings.
Malcolm Morley “Arizonac”
He also constructs three dimensional models of ships, planes and buildings from watercolor paper and encaustic paint, which he then uses as still life arrangements for paintings.
A Morley Tableau
Malcolm Morley “Margate”
Malcolm Morley “Crusade”
In my own work, I want my art to have that sense of playful purpose Morley describes.
Recently I had an opportunity to work on the subject of toys quite literally. The Firehouse, one of Phoenix’s leading alternative art spaces, held a toy-themed show. My contribution captured the sense of implied storytelling I enjoy so much. Working using toys as models was also my way of doing a tribute to Malcolm Morley, an inventive and adventurous painter.
Richard Bledsoe “Dragon, Fireman” acrylic on canvas 8″ x 10″
Dynamic explorations such as Morley’s are a perfect illustration of a statement from the Stuckist Manifesto:
It is the Stuckist’s duty to explore his/her neurosis and innocence through the making of paintings and displaying them in public, thereby enriching society by giving shared form to individual experience and an individual form to shared experience.