OK, I promised everyone a Halloween treat, and here it is. This past year I spent some time (ahem, well, actually hundreds and hundreds of hours) working on an art toy–a 19th century-style miniature theater for action figures! It is sized for four inch tall action figures because I grew up with Kenner’s “Star Wars” figures. I made the toy with a jigsaw, a lathe, and plywood. I painted/drew the images with watercolors, color pencils, markers, and Photoshop! Since I used Photoshop I can print eveything up and make as many as I like! However I haven’t finished scanning all of the backgrounds in yet and altering them (and I still have a couple more backgrounds I want to make).
The proscenium arch shows the musical competition between Apollo and Marsyas, an evocative tale which reveals dark truths about art. I have showed the contest instead of the outcome. On the left a nesting swan is left bereft because a cruel cupid has stolen her mate and shackled him to a chariot (he is flying away at the top). marsyas has heartbroken love and the muses behind him. Apollo has his dead python and a cold white temple The farms and cities of humankind can be barely glimpsed in the background behind them. Shears, a wineskin, shackles, and a flaying knife hint at the future.
On either side of the stage are great mock-Egyptian columns which support the aristocrats and rich folks in the top boxes. The best seat in the house go to the state–which I have represented on one side as a beautiful princess and on the other as an evil inquisitor (although if you look closely you will see they are the same person). The orchestra is filled with musicians and music makers from around the world like a serpent player, the devil with his fiddle, a splendid lyrebird, a ponce with a triangle, a vaudeville ukulele player in pancake makeup, and a toy monkey with some cymbals.
The wings of the theater fold out to show all of society. On the bottom are various groundlings like the shouting lout, the woman with her stupid iphone, my crooked ex business partner (with his vodka bottle), and a hungry walrus watching the fish tray above him. A couple of witches have slipped in without anyone noticing (Terry Pratchett would understand). The middle level is filled with thieves, lovers, merchants, and clergy people. The top level is filled with faceless shadow-folk on one side, and noble heroes on the other (notice the lady scientist, the luchador, and the martial arts master). The enraged colossal squid in the lower right was added expressly for this blog (although dedicated readers will notice many familiar elements).
I have placed some action figures from my collection inside the theater to give you a sense of scale–and of the play operas you could invent with your own action figures and toys!
Clever viewers will note that this is really a fancy frame with footlights. The real purpose is the interchangable sets–a collection of strange artworks featuring imaginary scenes from throughout history and the imagination. There is an ancient churchyard in front of a medieval church (notice the undead form and the megaliths on the moor beyond).
Here is French Colonial Timbuktu. Effete er…elite officers ride by on a half-track as cobras and scorpions prowl the thronging marketplace.
I spent a long time drawing Hell. I was really afraid of hell when I was a child and I tried to capture some of those concepts in these horrible monsters and gruesome punishments. It is unclear whether it is hell or Diyu (if there is a difference). I wanted it to be beautiful in its depraved horror. There are burning cities and red deserts yearning for water…but the aqueducts are broken. There are churches everywhere because I figure hell will be full of the devout. After all, people who believe in Hell worship evil deities–gods who purposely created flawed spirits just to torture them forever. But maybe I am just angry about being scared so badly when I was little. I added pterosaurs because I like them, not because I think they were especially evil.
My favorite scene is the garden aviary (pictured in the first picture at the top). It is filled with beautiful flowering trees, spring bulbs, and birds from around the world. I put the tropical jungle half-set in front of it (see the arborial marsupials), but it sort of blocks the scenic vista. In fact I had all sorts of trouble photographing this. I am a better toymaker than photographer. Also some scenes are not finished (like the future city filled with post-humans and sentient robots, below). I also left the secret door on the back unphotographed. I will save it for a later day (but it is really cool and it also unifies the toy greatly). More to follow. In the mean time get out there and enjoy Halloween (oh, and direct some traffic over here, if you have a moment–I have been working hard making things for you to enjoy!).