A Look at Urban Vinyl and Where it Came From
There's a movement under foot. It's a blend of art and toys and it's struck a chord with toy collectors and art lovers alike. It's Urban Vinyl and this is a brief history for those who'd like to learn a little more about this art movement in the making.
First, to understand Urban Vinyl, one must throw aside their conventional ideas of what makes a great toy. Sure, design of the piece plays a big part in the making of both. But the big difference is that Urban Vinyl is original from the start. This is true art, not a replication of another form. For example, more than likely, you base how much you like your Gonzo action figure on how much it looks like the actual Gonzo. In order to appreciate Urban Vinyl you enjoy it for what it is. There are no preconceived notions because what the piece is; is all it is, man. Also, things like articulation aren't as important because the Vinyl isn't always made to be played with. Yes, I know you play with your Skeletor. We all do. [Ed note: Shake it more than twice and you're playing with it.] But Urban Vinyl is created with art sensibilities in mind, so sculpt and design are the most important ingredients. Now I'm not saying that people like the Four Horsemen aren't amazing craftsmen. They are. But what they are doing is giving us their take on an already designed character. This is original to a point, but Urban Vinyl is original all the way to its core.
So how did the plastic move from the pegs to the pedestals?
It all starts in Hong Kong with a man named Michael Lau.
It was the late nineties and Lau was showing paintings in
galleries and working in advertising. He was employed by
a music group named Anidoze to create the cover art
for an upcoming album. Instead of a 2-D design he created
an original action figure and photographed it. He had been
making original figures for a while for friends and family,
and decided to create one for the cover, showing a broader
audience his style. It received a very warm response and
led to the first official Urban Vinyl line, The Gardeners.
These were 12 inch vinyl figures that represented a modern
positive lifestyle. No violence or drugs, but tattooed,
pierced, and wearing clothes that the urbanites were wearing
at the time. They struck a very strong chord with everyone
who saw them in the local galleries were they were shown.
This marriage of toy and art was beautiful in so many ways.
The toy collector could appreciate it because now something
they love had been raised to a new level, thereby gaining
more respect; while the art lovers could dig the new medium
on many levels [representations of our plastic throw away
society, people just being molds, and graffiti coming to
life to name a few] Lau also created 6 inch figures that
were sold to patrons of the galleries. These 6 inch figures
were made in very limited number and have been known to
reach thousands of dollars in price in some auctions. Since
then he's created numerous pieces and is still going at
it like a true pro. But the public craved more than just
one man could create, but let's face it, this is
a great idea that can be expanded on in so many directions.
So more artists began creating their own Urban Vinyl based
on what was important to them.
And they still do. Companies like StrangeCo, Achy Breaky, Critter Box, and Friends with You produce and create all original Urban Vinyl and Designer Toys in many different flavors. This is key, because for you to dig Urban Vinyl you have to dig what it's all about. Not everyone can relate to a Lau, because they may not live the lifestyle depicted. But now there are so many creations and themes that it's not hard to find an artist and toy that you would like. But remember! These are art works and are usually made in limited runs, so expect a higher price tag than a figure you can pick up at chain stores. But you are buying a piece of art, so you can feel good about it.
What has happened is a new canvas has been given to artists. We now have toys being made by people who are just entering the toy aisle, and that means fresh ideas are on the table. The mold has been broken and the pieces are scattering everywhere. Urban Vinyl is leading the charge in what has been dubbed the Designer Toy movement. Check out our coverage, keep an ear to the ground, and visit these great sites for all your needs.
Subcultures: the Art of the Action Figure is a touring show featuring the best in Urban Vinyl and other Designer Toys. Is it coming to your town? If not, write your local Art Council!! Look for it this weekend at the San Diego Comic Con. Spend a few days and enjoy. There are plenty of hotels or nice San Diego vacation rentals to stay in while there.
MichaelLau-art.com, for a great site covering all things Michael Lau check out this great fansite.
Kid Robot has original Lau and other great artists' work. They have an extensive online store and two retail locations in NYC and San Francisco.
Achy Breaky loves their Mulletheads, and so do I. Check out what this company has cooking.
Strangeco joins forces with artists and helps produce their art. It's a beautiful thing.
Friends with You focuses on the softer side of things. After all, it kinda hurts to hug plastic.
Critterbox also delves into the bizarre.
Rocket World is making a statement with their I.nsurgents W.ilderness G.ruppo. See what it's all about.
Sweaty Frog sells many popular, and unique designer toys.
Tranimals, each one hand produced by the artist, are coming to stores soon.
Thanks to Kidrobot.com for their images.
Article © 2004 MillionairePlayboy.com unless otherwise noted. All characters are property their original owners.