Custom toy exhibit will feature High Point native Jeff Beck
When is a toy not a toy?
In the curious world of Jeff Beck – a graphic designer by day and an up-and-coming toy artist the rest of the time – toys are never toys. They’re works of art.
“They’re just like a canvas you would display as art,” says Beck, a 36-year-old High Point native who recently moved to Greensboro. “They’re definitely not made to be played with. Most people collect them as pieces of artwork.”
Beck, who uses vinyl and resins to create a menagerie of odd-looking, sometimes even grotesque, creatures, will be one of the featured artists in “Land of Misfits,” an upcoming designer toy exhibition being held at the Center for Visual Artists in Greensboro.
The exhibit opens Friday and will continue through Jan. 11.
“I went to the gallery with the idea of doing a custom toy exhibit,” Beck says. “A lot of local artists have been sending in custom toys and paintings. Some have sent in stuffed animals and puppets, but they all have a custom-designed toy theme.”
Artists from outside North Carolina, including one from Argentina, have also submitted custom toys for the show, he adds.
Beck, who will have more than 20 original creations featured in the exhibit, joined the custom toy craze a couple of years ago.
“I was doing graphic design, but I was getting a little burned out on that,” he recalls. “I just wanted something new and creative to do, so I started painting on canvas. That kind of led into me finding this group of people who were customizing vinyl toys, and it was something that really interested me.”
Beck – who describes his style as “lowbrow art” – works primarily with vinyl and resins to create his collectible creatures.
“With the vinyl, you get these blank white vinyl toys and use that as your base,” he says, explaining that he orders the blank toys online. “And what I do is get some clay and sculpt over it and make it into the design that I want, or I’ll just paint straight onto the white vinyl toy.”
Beck’s resin toys, however, are completely his own.
“I hand-sculpt an original design myself,” he says, “and then I take it and make a silicone mold of that sculpture, and I put the resin in so I can make multiple copies of my toys.”
Because it’s not uncommon for him to be working with toxic chemicals, Beck often wears a gas mask when he’s creating in his studio.
“Usually when I’m spray-painting or making the resin toys,” he says. “The resin is not highly toxic, but it’s good to wear some kind of protection.”
Although the custom toy market is in its infancy in this part of the country, it’s huge on the West Coast and in the New York area, according to Beck. He hopes to boost the popularity of custom toys in the Triad – the Greensboro exhibition should help, he points out – but in the meantime, he’s found a market online by setting up a website and by being featured in blogs about custom toys.
“A big part of what I do is commissions, designing pieces for people based on what they tell me they want,” Beck says. “I’ve even had people in Germany commission me to do pieces for them. I’m starting to get more recognized, and people are finding out about me.”
And he hopes his popularity will continue to grow.
“I would love to just concentrate on my artwork – painting and making these toys – and turn that into a full-time career,” he says. “There are companies that commission artists to design toys for them and mass-produce them. That’s kind of the end goal – to transition over to doing this fulltime.”
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Want to go?
“Land of Misfits,” a designer toy exhibit, will be on view Friday through Jan. 11 at the Center for Visual Artists, 200 N. Davie St., Greensboro. An opening reception will be Friday from 6 to 9 p.m.
For more information about the exhibit, call (336) 333-7485 or visit http://cvagallery.greensboroart.org.
For more information about Beck, visit his Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/MenaceIncStudio?fref=ts.