Tag Archives: Munich

Lead Figures (Games and Art)

I was thinking about writing a series of blog post about the tangible art of games, the board and pieces used in play. The art associated with games; painted models, artwork in games and cosplay. The intersection of art and gaming culture is on the rarely examined edge of visual arts apart from when an exhibition of video games comes to ACMI to remind the public. (I have written about games before see my post on De Blob video game that hardly anyone has read.)

Then I learnt that David A. Trampier had died; if you have played AD&D then you will be familiar with his illustrations.

I emailed Mark Morrison, he was my first AD&D DM and now works in the games industry writing and teaching about designing games. I also told Mark Morrison about Sword & Dowkery’s blog post on Bruegel’s The Triumph of Death and lead/tin miniature figures based on the skeleton party in the painting.

When we were teenagers we used to paint the 25mm white metal figures. White metal, is a lead/tin alloy; little lead figures goes back to the ancient Romans but there are health concerns about them now. Skeletons were easy to paint, black in the shadows and white highlights on the bones. The quality of the model figures were amazing and the best of these figures were made by Citadel Miniatures in England. There are plenty of notes to the history of these tiny sculptures, known as miniatures.

Soldiers doing ablutions survive at the Munich Toy Museum

Soldiers doing ablutions survive at the Munich Toy Museum

Some notable sculptors have made dioramas with model figures, the Chapman Brothers, and closer to home, Daniel Dorell, among many contemporary artists. Web Gilbert and Leslie Bowles, who were both familiar with making much larger war memorials, made dioramas for the Australian War Memorial in Canberra; Web Gilbert did the Mathew Flinders memorial near Flinders Street and Bowles made the General Monash Memorial in Kings Domain, Melbourne. Frank Lynch and Wallace Anderson are two more sculptors who also made dioramas for the Australian War Memorial.

The ancient greeks had professional painters who specialised in painting sculptures to give it a life-like appearance. Painting the figures, background and models for the War Memorial dioramas went to another set of artists; Louis McCubbin did the original painting but they have since been retouched and repainted by other artists.

These war dioramas can be controversial; Peter Hofschröer, Wellington’s Smallest Victory (Faber and Faber, London, 2004) is a small book about a small matter of Napoleonic war history. Hofschröer’s detailed research into the Wellington’s insistence on an alteration to Lieutenant Siborn’s Large Waterlooo Model makes his book an exciting read. Siborn’s Large Waterlooo Model is 400 square feet and has hand painted 75,000 10mm white metal figures.

So to all the people painting readymade cast figures, to all my readers with Warhammer armies; remember that you are still doing what can legitimately be called art.

Early Martian army

Early Martian army at the Munich Toy Museum


Toys Make the Human

Toys are as much cultural artefacts as sculptures, although generally not considered as valuable. As a cultural artefact toys can shows as much about the culture, its values, traditions and beliefs as a small sculpture. Toys show part of the collective consciousness; they are miniature version of the adult world.

Soldiers doing ablutions survive at the Munich Toy Museum

Toys are part of an ephemeral culture and most of them are loved to destruction. Conscious of this history and like many aspects of ephemeral culture, toys have become collectable design objects in themselves. Some toys are now consciously created as collectable design objects, marketed to adults, remain in their original packaging as part of a complete design statement. (More do not touch signs and glass cases.)

I’ve been to toy museums and also the occasional a customized toy exhibition or art exhibition using toys. (I should note that I still have a collection of 25mm lead figures that I painted when I was a teenager and won a prize for some of them at Arcarnacon I.)

Toy museums are always interesting places to visit. I have enjoyed my visits to the Munich Toy Museum (Spielzeugmuseum im Alten Rathausturm) and the Mint Toy Museum in Singapore. Curiously both of these museums are extremely vertical, their exhibits crammed into several small narrow floors. Fortunately their exhibits are all on a small scale. The Mint Toy Museum concentrates on the influence of popular culture with toys associated with the space age, politicians, the Beatles, Disney films etc. It has a great collection of Japanese tin toys especially robots. The Munich Toy Museum specializes in teddy bears but also in the past preserved in miniature with toy vehicles, kitchens and armies. There was a whole history of kitchens, the military or transportation told in those toys.

Doll house kitchen in the Munich Toy Museum

President Nixon’s ping pong diplomacy preserved in toys at the Mint Toy Museum.

A few years ago at Villain I saw one of their “Munny” shows (I’ve seen others since at Villain but this was the best – I wish that I’d had my camera that day). A Munny is a customisable toy figure with a simplified round cartoon form either as a standing figure or in a small car. It is customisable in that all kinds of media can be applied to its plastic surface. They are amongst other brands of customisable toys that are for sale at Villain. Every year or so Villain assembles an awesome collection of modified Munnys for an in store exhibition. That year several of the artists exhibiting in the show from the street art scene: Phibs, Deb, and Junior. Phibs sushi crab version of the Munny car was out standing. There were some amazing and fun modifications of the original toy, some beautiful painting and excellent modelling. Some of the modifications left the original form far behind, like Agnieska Rypinska’s large impressive elephant with howdah. One of the works on display was by Katherine Dretzke, a customer who had brought her, now decorated and winged, Munny back to the store for the exhibition; a genuine interactive consumer experience.

Maybe we should look more deeply at toys; maybe they are more than just artefacts that represent our culture but symbols of what makes us human. Desmond Morris argues in the Naked Ape (1967) that humans retain many juvenile ape features and that this juvenile nature has been turned to an evolutionary advantage. The human ability to remain a juvenile and play allows the human to continue to learn as adults.


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