BAX BEARS WORLD TOUR at Keep Six Contemporary (938 Bathurst), to April 6. 647-436-6594. Rating: NNNN
There was a time when collectible toy and action figurines were the sole domain of 40-year-old virgins, prized artifacts of an army of basement-dwelling geeks and hardcore gamers. The advent of toy culture from Asia, however, has inspired a new breed of vinyl junkie: achingly hip collectors who seek out one-of-a-kind figurines by artists inspired more by graffiti, anime and DJs than by Tolkien or Marvel comics.
Such is the rationale for the Bax Bears World Tour show at Keep Six Contemporary. Michael Zhu and Jason Pultz of Vancouver’s OSO Design House, creator of the Bax Bear figurine, worked with curator and gallery owner Rafi Ghanaghounian to assemble a roster of 150 up-and-coming Canadian designers, illustrators and comic artists whose unique bears pleasantly blur the boundary between collectible novelty and fine art.
OSO’s slick first-generation line forms the heart of the show, but Toronto artists have contributed new, lovingly detailed and bizarre additions. The figures work hard to be indescribable, a purée of manga, outsider art and comic-inspired styling served up with cartoonish violence, cheeky sexual humour and political innuendo. It’s a bit like the comic pages of Vice magazine or Giant Robot come to life.
Anything and everything is possible. There are versions of Batman, Chairman Mao and, of course, a real “bear” (complete with hairy chest and beard), plus growling urban gangstas, vampires, bikini-clad glam divas and a reptile wearing its bear body as a spacesuit.
Others are more subtly conceptual. Harvey Chan’s figure combines golden Chinese characters for “inner” and “outer” with delicately calligraphic organs and skeleton, while Jon Todd manages a beautifully surreal cross between a Russian nested doll, tin robot and Mexican wrestler.
At their best, the results are compellingly uncanny rather than clever or cute. As toys, though, they’re allowed to be merely charming, all part of the fun. As part of OSO Design’s DIY ethic, you’re encouraged decorate your own and send them a picture. It just might become part of the next collectible line.