Last week I introduced you to Insomnia Video Game Culture & Vinyl Toys and owner Chris Unclebach. It was Valerie Gudell that introduced me to not only the store, but the entire medium of gaming and toy culture. Valerie owns Cultured Critter Collective and has been a regular art vendor at my show for several years now.
Valerie Gudell is an urban vinyl and mixed media artist, born in New York City and her work has been featured online and coast to coast many times over. Valerie was kind enough to educate me on her chosen medium.
To the uninitiated, what exactly ARE urban vinyl toys?
Urban vinyl toys are a type of designer toy, usually made of vinyl. The figures typically feature original designs created by illustrators, graffiti artists and even some fine artists, with limited production runs. They are marketed predominantly to adult collectors, as the prices for rare pieces can cost anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars.
Did they originate in the U.S.?
No, most urban vinyl toys are produced overseas in China, Hong Kong and Singapore, but there are some rare Sofubi vinyl figures that are produced in Japan. Currently in the USA, there are some creators that produce their own resin figures in extremely limited runs.
How long have they been popular?
They have been popular since the late 1990s, when Michael Lau first began designing his vinyl figures in Hong Kong. In my collection, I am proud to have a Bounty Hunter Skull Kun figure (from Japan) that dates back to 1997, and a Monstrooper figure designed by Pete Fowler (from UK) that dates back to 2002.
What is urban vinyl toy customization?
Urban vinyl toy customization is the process in which artists use a three-dimensional urban vinyl toy as their “canvas” to create something new, as opposed to using actual canvas, wood panel or paper. Typically, they tend to use either a pre-existing vinyl production toy or a “blank”, which is a plain, white vinyl figure specifically created for toy customization.
Though there is a manufactured component (the vinyl toy), each of these unique pieces takes several hours, many days, and sometimes weeks to complete. Some artists prefer to paint the vinyl toy in a way that preserves the original shape, and some choose to sculpt directly onto the figure, or to add a variety of found objects, similar to assemblage art.
The toy customizer community is comprised of artists who live and work all over the world. In the U.S., toy customizing is most popular in L.A. and NYC.
When did you start creating your creatures?
I started working in ceramic sculpture around 2004, when I studied with June Woest, at Urban Artists Studio, in Houston. June was an awesome teacher, who encouraged me in my quest to make all things creature-like, while also teaching me the basic principles of sculptural structure.
In 2009, after much toy collecting, and getting some valuable advice from a few well-known toy customizers, I took part in my first custom vinyl toy show, in California. I really enjoyed seeing the wide variety of ideas and designs presented by this group of artists. While working on the vinyl figures had presented some difficulties at first, I managed to overcome those difficulties and was somewhat satisfied with the results. After that, I was totally hooked and the customizing madness began!
What inspires you to make some of your creatures?
My inspiration comes mainly from pop culture, graffiti, Asian art, and most recently, the Steampunk genre. Sometimes when a new vinyl toy is released, I must get my hands on it immediately, because I have already fallen in love with the design and have started making plans for it in my mind.
Meet Valerie and her Cultured Creature Collective at her studio in Hardy & Nance Street Studios, no. 15, Insomnia, 724 W. 19th St. and at First Saturday Arts Market this November. Visit her online at CulturedCritterCollective.com
Cohen is the founder and manager of First Saturday Arts Market. Contact him at ArtValet@gmail.com or visit him on the web at ArtValet.com.