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"Toy Stories"
at William Havu Gallery, Denver, Colorado
Review by Gabe Scott

"Toy Stories'" six artists appropriate childhood icons to comment tellingly on the adult world, with an ample serving of social

Continuing through September 3, 2011

“Toy Stories”
examines adult relationships via childhood toy icons while re-appropriating some of them to serve as tools of social metaphor and allegory. The exhibit calls upon six artists from around the country who are able to contribute each their distinctive social perspectives through a range of mediums and styles. There is the soft, super realist paintings of Colorado based Laurel Swab and the pop surrealist multi-media sculptures of Miami sculptor Esteban Blanco. Bay Area painter Michael Brennan’s lowbrow influenced oils reference familiar story- and comic book characters. The ceramic creatures of  Phillip Maberry and Scott Walker are rich in fantasy. Themes ranging from childhood associations with enigmatic objects to gender themed social commentary provide an ample serving of social relevance.

Born in Cuba and currently residing in Florida, Blanco contributes works born out of his emphasis on object art. Here it is centered around the iconic Barbie doll and a number of elaborate warships based on toy boats and planes. Much of the Barbie doll series is created out of wooden relief boxes, evoking what Joseph Cornell's cultural nightmares might have looked like. Throughout this series, Barbie is cast as protagonist in a theatrical setting on a miniature stage, compelled to act out scenes of a production where conflicting social, political and sexual values intersect with a world of fantasy to provide alternative perspectives on commonplace moral subjects.

Like Blanco, Cleveland native Frances Lerner's understated oil paintings center around one character or that character's fantastical family. Loralei, a puppet found by the artist in a Japanese flea market, is depicted in various contexts, from pastoral landscapes to anonymous industrial sites. Loralei assumes the identity of an immigrant or peasant who might be seen anywhere in Eastern Europe, or Midwestern cities like the artist’s home town towards which so many from those countries have historically gravitated. These subtly complex scenes of Loralei and her puppet family convey a feeling of folksy nostalgia, while also being the subjects of elusive narratives.

Mojave Desert, California residents Walker and Mayberry’s ceramic "pool toys" fool the eye to suggest the appearance of inflatable plastic objects, partially through an application of neon or glow-in- the-dark glazes. In comparison to the rest of the exhibit, theses creatures feel much less like they are trying to deliver a message. They come across as a the product of a very advanced child's imagination. Feeling partly like classic Dr. Seuss characters and other worldly fantasy creatures that could be from around Takashi Murakami's home planet, these creations expand the scope of ceramic possibility. Digital transfers, new technologies and modern interpretations of vintage decorative styles and ornamentation enable the creatures to be, in the artists' words, "infused with an optimistic spirit."

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