There's no shortage of toys and merchandise based on celebrities floating around the Internet, but some are a bit more unusual than others. In the designer toy and art toy world, artists turn recognizable figures into vinyl characters and mash them up with other pop culture references into amazing sculpts. Inspired by a recent trip to Melrose Avenue shop Toy Art Gallery, here's a smattering of toys that go far beyond the classic celebrity Barbies.
5. Elvis Presley Be@rbrick
Japan's Medicom Toy Corporation is no stranger to collaboration. Look through the gallery for its signature Be@rbrick toy and you'll find everything from Star Wars goodies to figures inspired by British rock band Oasis.
The Be@rbrick dedicated to the King of Rock & Roll is a stellar piece. Released in 2007 for the anniversary of Elvis Presley's death, it's about as detailed as you can get while still using the Be@rbrick form. It was released in both the standard size, small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, and a larger “400 percent” figure. As is typical for this line, the toy was a limited edition, so good luck finding one.
4. Matt Groening figure at Kidrobot
Kidrobot has produced a lot of great toys based on hip cartoons (I'm still trying to collect more of the Adult Swim blind box figures). The company outdid itself, though, with this 6-inch vinyl figure based on The Simpsons creator Matt Groening. Styled like a self-portrait of the famed cartoonist, this fun collectible was released earlier this year, just in time to celebrate the legendary series' 500th episode. The notepad featuring a sketch of Homer Simpson is a nice touch.
3. David Bowie mannequins
Australian artist Tanja Stark makes gorgeous mannequin-styled dolls based on famed artists, and her most frequent muse is David Bowie. I first wrote about Stark's work for L.A. Weekly's music blog in 2010, and since then she has created more pieces based on Bowie's ever-evolving looks. Recently, she's re-created Screaming Lord Byron, from the video “Jazzin' for Blue Jean,” and the Diamond Dogs-era Halloween Jack. Stark isn't content to stick with Bowie, though. She's added a mannequin of Australian rock hero Nick Cave as well.
2. Flight of the Conchords custom Mad*L figures
In their blank form, MAD*L figures are a simple white body with a boxy head and prominent ears. What happens to the piece after that is up to the artist doing the customizing.
Josh Hughbanks turned this MAD*L set into the ultimate Flight of the Conchords fan piece. The body is based on the costumes that the comedy/music duo wore in the video for “Robots.” The attention to detail in the faces of stars Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie is impressive as well. More art than toy, this set is available at Toy Art Gallery on Melrose Avenue.
1. Gundam + Obama = Gundama
Francesco de Molfetta, who had a solo show at Toy Art Gallery last fall, likes to mash up cultural icons in strange ways, and none of these experiments is as intriguing as “Gundama.”
For Gundama, Molfetta places U.S. President Barack Obama inside the robotic suit made famous in Japan's Gundam series. While there have been plenty of nerdy references to the POTUS — he's even appeared in comic books — this one takes the cake. Molfetta created Gundama as both a large, Fiberglas statue and as a limited-edition run of smaller, porcelain figures. You can find both at Toy Art Gallery.