See more photos in Shannon Cottrell's slideshow.
It's hard not to notice “The Vader Project” as you walk down Melrose Avenue. The display window is a traffic-stopper. There's Darth Vader as a samurai, Darth Vader with rainbow flags and, if you strain your eyes just a bit, there are rows and rows of fantastically revamped Darth Vader helmets behind them.
Dov Kelemer and Sarah Jo Marks, who run distributor DKE Toys, wanted to put together an art show, but platform shows had been done time and again and they were looking for something different. Kelemer thought Darth Vader would work. They had friends at Master Replicas, who license the villain's iconic helmet, and were able to score 100 prop replicas. Then they contacted a wide range of artists. Response was enthusiastic and they received six finished pieces, including graphically bold mixed media piece from Dalek, early on in the development of the show. By 2007, roughly two years after first conceiving the project, Kelemer and Marks were traveling to Star Wars Celebration events with sixty-six helmets. Now, they are preparing to auction the individual pieces. The Los Angeles Preview Exhibition will run until June 20, with an artist signing today. Then the collection will move to Freeman's Auction House in Philadelphia, where the auction will take place on July 10.
There were relatively few restrictions for “The Vader Project”. Kelemer and Marks simply asked that artists keep the work free from profanity or extremely offensive imagery and that any parts added to the helmet be detachable (it was the latter that posed a problem and made for some creative shipping solutions). However, the helmet itself provide certain parameters for the artists. Though “The Vader Project” is stylistically varied, each piece is unmistakably Darth Vader.
Several of the artists kept with the Star Wars theme. Suckadelic used the helmet as the basis for a Tatooine scene in “Son of the Suns.” Gris Grimly and Jophen Stein painted characters from the film series on their helmets and Huck Gee offered a nod to Star Wars samurai film roots with “Kurai No Kurai.” Others took the helmets into different directions. Some, like Robbie Conal, went political. Dan Goodsell took a cute, comedic route with “Darth Bacon,” which references his Shaky Bacon character from the Mr. Toast universe. Meanwhile, Wade Lageose transformed Darth Vader into the Statue of Liberty.
There's a sense of generational unity to the project. The auction catalog notes the birth year of each of the artists. Most, were born in the 1960s and 1970s. They're old enough to have seen the original trilogy in movie theaters. Kelemer recalls seeing Episode IV during the 1978 rerelease. Marks confesses that she's more of an Indiana Jones person, but adds that Star Wars references are inescapable. Despite the generational connection to the movies, each helmet has been so drastically altered that it's not necessarily nostalgic. The reference ties to the artists' childhood and adolescent years, but the finished works are contemporary.