Remember Playmobil toys? Those tiny, plastic people that were a part of so many childhood games of make-believe have made a grown up comeback at Toy Art Gallery. This time, though, they appear as zombies.
San Francisco-based artist Mikie Graham has brought Zombie Art Project, his series of gory, customized Playmobil figures, to the Melrose Avenue designer toy shop, starting with an opening on Saturday night. It's the second incarnation of his successful series and his first solo show in Los Angeles. Graham has turned the Playmobil figures into famed director George Romero, the heroic trio from Shaun of the Dead and dozens of other characters.
Graham has been collecting toys since the 1990s, when he was a high school student. As an artist, he often works in connection with Blamo Toys and his pieces have appeared in a number of shows. He has a host of intriguing customization projects to his credit, including turning Emilio Garcia's Jumping Brain figure into a parody of anti-drug ads.
Those who saw “My Little Pony Project” at TAG earlier this year might already be familiar with Graham's work. He's the artist who took pony customization to epic extremes with a Trojan Horse that came complete with hidden Playmobil warriors.
It's those Playmobil figures that inspired Graham's visions of the zombie apocalypse. The old toys aren't incredibly difficult to find and they're pretty inexpensive. Graham considers them a “cheap way to buy a base figure” for his projects. “Really what I like to do is buy a huge lot on eBay and be creative with whatever I find,” he explains.
Last year, Graham started the Zombie Art Project to find a use for some extra figures he had on hand. He put together 31 sets, giving a total of 65 Playmobil people the zombie curse. He released the sets daily through his website and, ultimately, sold out of the pieces. For the second installment of ZAP, he spent about a month putting together the collection.
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Graham was able to knock out two or three figures a day. That's impressive considering the small size of the pieces and the incredible detail in each one.
The figures exist in worlds large and small, which he cobbled together from customized Playmobil sets and other vintage toys. Their lives and personalities are a culmination of pop culture references, traditional stories and the artist's own imagination. A piece called The Hippy and her California Cheeseburger is derived from a Simpsons gag. Meanwhile, the character Baron Samedi has a backstory stemmed in Haitian lore.
The characters come with their own mini biographies. Take Face Off Frankie as an example. The last one standing after his family fell prey to a zombie attack, he's now a killer and a collector. Look closely at his apron and you'll see his victim's visages. Inspired in part by Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Face Off Frankie was an interesting challenge for Graham. “It was fun to see if I could sculpt a tiny little apron made of severed Playmobil heads,” he says.
His favorite piece in the show, though, is The Ultimate Escape Vehicle, a Playmobil tow truck that Graham customized with massive bursts of flames and zombies who just might be approaching the end of their devastating crawl.
It's a gruesome game of survival inside Toy Art Gallery right now and Graham's undead characters are guaranteed to wreak havoc upon Melrose Avenue for another two weeks. “The Zombie Art Project” will run at the gallery through December 8.