Hold on to the old toys in your house, people. Robert Bradford transforms them into coveted works of democratic and sustainable art.
Art has always been about elevating the human spirit and uplifting the soul but if it can also work to heal the environment – so much the better.
In this era of environmental awareness, we’ve always applauded artists who talk the ‘green talk’ and engage society with the issue of sustainability. One such artist is Robert Bradford from Cornwall, England who creates eye-catching sculptures by cleverly assembling old, worthless, plastic toys into various interesting forms. His art, minus any toxic substances, is a genuine venture into green living.
Robert first chanced upon the idea of creating art out of discarded toys when faced with piles of the stuff in his own house. “I thought they looked really beautiful. The toys made a great jumbled up combination of colours, shapes and textures; it gave me an idea to glue and fasten them together into something entirely new.”
With cartons filled to the brim with hundreds of plastic toys in all shapes and sizes, Robert proceeds to screw them onto a pre-fabricated wooden armature. “I choose the toys that in my opinion are the best designed ones. I often think – this toy would make a great nose or this toy would help form a good curve. And sometimes even – this toy would look great enlarged to a bigger size”.
Sometimes the sculptures are as high as six meters and composed of over a thousand to two thousand toys. Robert collects old toys from car boot sales or from the people who commission a sculpture. “I do like the idea that what is often seen as rubbish can be transformed into something beautiful. Also for me I have not found another material that makes more references to so many different aspects of human activity as toys do,” he adds.
At first glance, the combined impact of colour, shape, form and texture can be quite a sensorial overload. It’s when you inch closer and your eye zooms in on the plastic Superman or the embedded rubber lizards, ponies, planes and other toys in the sculpture that the full meaning of Robert’s efforts descends. “Often the art tends to spark off memories of the viewer’s childhood or those of their children,” says Robert.
Robert graduated from the Royal College of Art, London and was involved in artistic pursuits from early childhood, but spent 13 years as a psychotherapist before finally settling into the life of a full-time artist. His technical knowledge of form and structure ensures his sculptures are sound aesthetically. “Form is to some extent itself content,” he remarks.
In the past Robert kept his sculptures interactive with buttons that the viewer could press to make sound alarms. “Now only their eyes light up, which are actually old torches,” he says. Speaking of the fine line between art and circus or entertainment he adds without hesitation – “I want to stay on the art side of that line”.
Most of Robert’s works are commissions by pet owners who want a toy likeness of their pets. This explains the large number of doggie sculptures he’s created over time. “I have always loved dogs and I find that for me they can express a lot about being human.” Robert’s other favourites from his collection include a few angels and a toy soldier.
Expectedly, reactions to Robert’s art have been mixed. Some people are amused and entertained while others think it’s all ‘rubbish’. “That’s true on one level,” he says good-humouredly. While executing a sculpture, Robert says he tries to create an emotional range between nice and nasty, serious and silly, high-end art and kitsch. He hopes the art will interest a large audience irrespective of whether they understand art or not. “The works are intended to be ‘democratic art for people’ not just for art critics and intellectuals.”
In winter, when it is hard to go looking for old toys, Robert simply uses household utilitarian items like clothes pegs and pot scourers. Robert’s art is clearly not high-brow, but when you consider how it minimises the impact of our consumerism and saves the environment, you have to agree in the end that it is something quite remarkable.
Text By Christabelle Athaide
Photographs Courtesy Robert Bradford