Domo Arigato Mr. Roboto! Tonight I went to the opening of a fascinating art exhibition in Chippendale an area that is becoming something of an art scene (in the last few weeks I have been to exhibitions at galleries within a stone’s throw of each other-MOP, NG and White Rabbit). This exhibition, titled Toy Porn 2, showcased the work of established artist Nick Stathopoulos who recently made a portrait of the comics creator Shaun Tan for the Archibald Prize. There are no portraits of Tan here but appearances by cartoon character creations from animation, comics and films such as Astro Boy, Tintin, Batman, Thunderbirds, Robby the Robot, The Beatles in their Yellow Submarine, and assorted others. (Note: the Tan portrait was on display in the restaurant downstairs-see comment below by Ian McLean).
Stathopoulos paints in a hyper-realistic style on a flat canvas but manages to deliver a convincing three dimensional effect. He does intensely detailed, fine painting with no visible trace of brush strokes. His rendering of plastic surfaces is extraordinary. It is a labour of love. There is tension evident in the work. He always comes between us portrays a moment of drama with the cartoon characters Snowy separated by a surprised Tintin and an annoyed Captain Haddock. A painting of the package containing the Yellow Submarine toy is both a delightful and detailed sight to collectors and toy hunters for its representations of scuffs, scratches and bends in the box that indicate the toy is in a less than mint condition yet still to be cherished.
I am familiar with the term shelf porn referring to the display of treasured collections. There are displays by comics collectors, for example, who proudly reveal photographs of their bookshelves with the spines of all the graphic novels they own and that others might envy. The notion of ‘display’ of one’s collection, or as Claudia Chan Shaw described in her address, one’s ‘habit’, seems to be an essential element of this behaviour. So perhaps you looks at these images of someone else’s collection and envy the titles that they have and that you don’t? There is the love for the object in question, book or toy, CD or vinyl, and the desire for adding it to one’s collection.
The show was opened by Claudia Chan Shaw, ABC-TV’s Collectors, who admitted to being a bit of a collector with a weakness for plastic and vinyl. She even brought one of her toys along to the event. Her speech was both erudite and amusing and she demonstrated a fine understanding of the business and motivation for collecting including, in this instance, the need for a reconnection with the playthings of one’s childhood. She was charming. Discussing her own collecting habits Claudia mentioned the therapeutic value of going public and sharing stories with other collectors, gaining empathy in a kind of collaborative complicity. She was wonderful, the perfect choice to launch this show.
Standing next to Nick’s portrait of Robby the Robot from Forbidden Planet and opposite the Thunderbirds and with Claudia and Nick duelling with their Astro Boys, images of Tezuka’s Tetsuwan Atomu and the music of Queen’s Domo arigato Mr. Roboto by Japanese band Polysics played in my mind. Robots, rockets, plastic and vinyl were GO! This exhibition is an affectionate tribute to toys, their collection and preservation. Toy love. Well done Nick! Good show. Comics lovers should definitely see it.
Toy Porn 2 is on at NG Art Gallery Little Queen Street, Chippendale, 26 July-13 August.
UPDATE: Two years later Nick has provided a further instalment titled Toy Porn 3 at the same gallery from 24 September -12 October 2013 (See images on invite below).