The mid-’80s was a renaissance for gross toys in America, spearheaded by the likes of the Garbage Pail Kids and Madballs lines. With several concepts from this time proving to have enduring legacies, Madballs, in particular, inspired the young minds of those who would eventually contribute to the designer toy art movement. This is exemplified by myplasticheart‘s recent Madballs All-Star Art Jam and Exhibition, wherein a bevy of contemporary artists hand-painted — and even modified in some cases — newly made vinyl renditions that fall under the Madballs’ banner.

A Brief History of Madballs

American Greetings card company’s AmToy & Those Characters From Cleveland divisions found success in the female market with Care Bears and Strawberry Shortcake, but by the mid-1980s their in-house designers were tasked to conceive concepts targeted towards boys. The initial two results of which were My Pet Monster and Madballs, the latter being grotesque balls that debuted in 1985 as hard rubber renditions which were quickly shifted to a softer foam material to avoid potential injuries. But by the end of 1988, the Madballs line seemingly vanished from store shelves.

As is true of any popular concept, Madballs have been resurrected periodically over the years. In 2007 and 2008, Art Asylum released two series of the toys redesigned by James Groman, who had worked on the original AmToy’s line. But a true resurgence would begin occurring in 2016 when American Greetings Entertainment would partner with Mondo, Just Play, and Kidrobot to produce new renditions of the line.

Overview of the Madballs All-Star Art Jam and Exhibition

Madballs All-Star Art Jam and Exhibition - Kidrobot's Madballs Medium Vinyl Figures, Horn Head and Bot HeadCommemorating this revitalization, myplasticheart and James Groman presented the Madballs All-Star Art Jam and Exhibition, a group showcase involving “illustrators, sculptors, and painters whose creative careers and artistic endeavors have been marked by their love of the classic Madballs of their childhood”. The artists were invited to modify co-sponsor Kidrobot’s “Medium Figure” released renditions, namely the new adaptation of the classic Horn Head character and/or the grotesque reimagining of Kidrobot’s own ‘Bot mascot as the ‘Bot Head, both of which are pictured in the factory produced forms.

Carlos Villagra’s HornHead in Love

Representing the exhibit’s other sponsor, American Greetings Entertainment, was the company’s Head of Illustration and New Intellectual Property (IP), Carlos Villagra. Creating a classic toy coloration with acrylic paints, Villagra’s HornHead in Love adds a cartoonish heart-shape to the character’s pupil. Reading like a love letter from the original company’s agent to this new rendition, it was perfectly displayed at the forefront of the gallery’s space.

Violence Toy’s Untitled #2

Granting a wonderful depth of horrific tones to their Horn Head contribution, Zach Taylor & Ezra Haidet of Violence Toy beautifully speckled the cycloptic eye of their Untitled #2 piece. While the red gore spilling forth from this rendition’s mouth seems a bit flat in comparrison to the paint application elsewhere on this work, the subtle yellowish hue on its teeth is a perfect touch.

Remjie Malham’s Space Virus Bothead

The bold and bright color choices by Remjie Malham grant a psychedelic impression to her Space Virus Bothead work. And while the paint application is mainly applied in solid swaths, it is the skillful application of evolving hues the lend depth to the appearance. Decorated overall with fluid, mostly circular shapes, this emphasizes how the design has multiple pupils in each eye, an affliction called polycoria, which immediately lends an acid trip flair to entire work.

TRU:TEK’s Blood Suckah

The muddy purplish tone that Niall “TRU:TEK” Anderson applied to his Horn Head piece, Blood Suckah, has subtle variations and fades to it, ones that keep the whole from feeling flat in the slightest. But, more importantly, this darker base allows the contrastingly stark eyeball and teeth elements to catch the viewer’s attention, a facet that is mirrored in the metallic coloration of the gold nose ring and silvery sutures.

Miscreation Toys’ Bad Taxidermy HornHead

Not satisfied to simply paint this Bad Taxidermy HornHead contribution, Miscreation Toys‘s Jeremi Rimel has painstakingly replaced as many elements as possible with their real life counterparts, granting a terrifyingly delightful look to the piece’s appearance. The vinyl sculpture’s eye has been excised to make room for a lifelike glass replacement. A goat’s horn replaces the original from atop its head. The sculpted beard aspect is coated with synthetic fur and mohair. Real metal staples and nose ring replace design’s representation of them. And a wood stand, instead of the one included with the vinyl figure, makes this piece reside taller than most. But, most importantly of all, Rimel has carefully chosen and employed his paints, adding to the overall aesthetic without distracting (or detracting) from his applied elements.

James Groman’s Madballs: The Birthing

For Madballs: The Birthing, artist James Groman affixed nine Madballs Blind Box Vinyl Mini Series pieces to the exterior of his Horn Head medium-sized figure. Reminiscent of how fluffy mogwai balls spawn from the original after exposure to water in the Gremlins film, these smaller Madballs are emerging from the larger one, a whole new generation of these creatures being “born”.

Andrew Bell’s Inner Beauty

With a two tone crimson coloration coating its exterior, Andrew Bell‘s Inner Beauty is a striking sculpture, the custom-made stand oozing downward from the piece like a bloody downpour, Bell’s flower logo being embossed on the base. And while the abyssal darkness of Inner Beauty‘s eye is a truly eye-catching touch, it is the removeable outer shell that steals the viewer’s attention. Resembling an antique helmet, this is a perfectly executed simulacrum, matching the contours of Horn Head’s shape. Even the character’s wounds are transplanted onto the form, found as slices through the faux metal, repaired by tightly bound cords.

Mark Nagata’s Metallic Madballs #1 & #2

Mark Nagata‘s Metallic Madballs pieces stand as a testiment to this artist’s ability with an airbrush, the rainbow of metallic colors seamlessly fading into one another across the main forms while simultaneously being mindful of highlighting the details within the sculpts. Superbly subtle spotted patterning on Metallic Madballs #1, which uses the Bot Head base, are easy to overlook but will become a standout aspect through repeated viewings, while painted Horn Head piece, Metallic Madballs #2, immediately grabs one’s attention with its bloodshot eye.

Dski One’s Death Breath & Oscar Meyers

David “Dski One” Osowski’s colorful Horn Head rendition, Death Breath, employs beautiful purple to blue to green fades across the majority of its form, the elements painted in other hues grabbing attention all the more for it. And the single slit pupil of its reddened eye is wonderfully accented by the purplish-pink strands emanating from it.
But it’s Osowski’s other contribution, the Oscar Meyers piece, that truly astounds. The minimal palate recalls the appearance of exposed musculature, a victim who has been skinned by his killer. With the black, freehanded outlinging of the eyes emphasizing a sense of fear and shock in them, it is the idea of placing a handle on the end of the Bot Head’s crest — making it into the likeness of cleaver sunken into the piece’s skull — that viewer’s will imediately find memorable. And the overall appearance of this piece is haunting, something one recalls whether they want to or not.

Skinner’s Mad Boy Bad Ball

By adorning his piece in Cel-Vinyl, of the same type employed in painting traditional animation cells, Skinner provides a bright pop of color to the exhibit with his Mad Boy Bad Ball. Using tonal washes to create depth and shadowing, the deformed dual pupil in this Horn Head’s eye adds a brilliant, psychotic touch to the magical glow of this almost fluorescent work.

JRYU’s Demonboru

Intricately sculpting over the Horn Head form, artist Jesse “JRYU” Yu transforms his contribution into the classical likeness of a demon-like creature from Japanese folklore’s head, the oni. Titled Demonboru, with bōru being the Japanese word for “ball”, Yu only retained a handful of elements from the original vinyl piece: the ears, the beard of hair, the wart-like growths on the side and back, and the single horn atop its head. Painted with a faded white across most of the work, it takes on the appearance of an ancient statue, the gilded aspects unweathered by time.

Wonder Goblin’s GEMCLOPS

Sculpted to accomodate the real quartz crystals emerging from this Horn Head’s eye socket, as well as replacing the horn atop its head, it’s only on closer examination that one appreciates the detailing beyond these obvious elements in James “Wonder Goblin” Sizemore’s GEMCLOPS. Airbrushed with handmade, blacklight reactive urethane paints, not only will this piece glow-in-the-dark but it has also been finished with holographic glitter to allow it to sparkle in the sun. And far more subtle than the crystals, Sizemore has sculpted the polyps to be larger and more numerous, as well as elongated the upper and lower eyeteeth on his fantastical beast.

Doubleparlour’s Toothie

The husband-and-wife duo behind Doubleparlour, Ernesto “Ernie” & Cassandra Velasco, completely reimagined their Madballs contribution, Toothie. Turning the original form upside down, the toothy grin of Horn Head becomes their piece’s fang-filled eye sockets. Extensively sculpting upon the base shape, the Velascos have created their own fantastical rendition reminiscent of Count Orlok from Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens, complete with pointed ears, a skeletal nasal cavity, and thin lips containing massive blood-sucking teeth.

Chris Ryniak’s Blinky the Stumpy Horngoblin

For his Blinky the Stumpy Horngoblin, artist Chris Ryniak alters Horn Head into a creature that would fit in alongside his own pudgy bestiary. By adding a glass eye to the form and completely removing the nose, Ryniak creates a more menacing profile that juxtopozes perfectly against the comically cute body he sculpted for the piece. Painted with a wash of color variations that have been finished with a subtle speckling for greater cohesion, the simple addition of a metal chain necklace makes the disproportionately large head feel suitable atop the smaller frame.

Miscreation Toys’ Bot Head Miscreated

“Gloriously grotesque” is the most apt description of the Bot Head Miscreated piece by Miscreation Toys‘ Jeremi Rimel. Replacing the ‘Bot Head’s crest with a circular saw blade, an element perfectly mirrored under the base, this piece has the appearance of having been torn apart, reassumebled using metal suture staples. With a lolling tongue issued forth from its clenched teeth, the milky white eye balls residing in its disfigured sockets immediately attract attention, the plethora of squirming worms surrounding them heightening the horrific tone.

Brent Nolasco’s Jaw Breaker

Contorting his ‘Bot Head base to tilt upwards, Brent Nolasco‘s Jaw Breaker is a radical reimagining of the original form. Sculpting two sharp tooth-filled jaws onto the form, the powdery eye growths and mushroom stalks are reminiscent of the “zombie fungus” that parasitizes insect hosts. Emphasized by the addition of a bee-like tail, this brightly colored piece proves as disturbingly thought-provoking as it is compelling.

Jon-Paul Kaiser’s Padraig the Dread-Eye

Jon-Paul Kaiser‘s signature style relies on austere black-and-white appearances, his carefully applied aryclic paints deliniating the base sculpture through hash marks. Adding small spots of gray for his contribution, Padraig the Dread-Eye, Kaiser’s piece arrests the viewer’s gaze, a statement to the powerful vision that is his monochromatic work.

Retroband’s MAD MEATS

Affixing a Horn Head atop the body of his MEATS figure (see here), Aaron “Retroband” Moreno has melded these disparate forms together through precise paint application. This MAD MEATS piece’s truly staggering appearance is intensified by its accessories, from the faux brass knuckles, emblazzoned with the word “MEATS”, to its tiny cloth jean jacket with back patch and metal chain link accent. But, in the end, its how these components compliment one another and unify together that makes the entirety remarkable.

Guumon’s Titanium Hornhead

While following the contours of his Horn Head’s form, Guumon (Brian Mahony) opted for his Titanium Hornhead piece to be an exercise in color theory, one metallic hue fading harmoniously into the next. Radiating a shimmer under lighting, this piece’s matte display base — a wash of green with black rubbed into the detailing — perfectly grants prominence to the work residing upon it.

Grizlli Atom’s Nacreous Nausea

Painted in some sickeningly beautiful, corpse-like hues, Grizlli Atom (Kevin Kusulas)’s Nacreous Nausea wonderfully replaces its ‘Bot Head’s crest with a mohawk mane of yarn hair. And while the tongue element is a noteworthy addition, it is the eyes that embody the heart of this piece: droplets of blood emanating forth, one being a delightfully scabbed over wound while the other contains a raised pupil, its muted colors denoting a dead man’s gaze.

Mechavirus’ Dot Matrix Type & Atari Punk

The artwork of Mechavirus (Todd Robertson) is represented with two decidedly different contributions. The above-pictured Dot Matrix Type is an example of precise paint application, the circular decorations being particularly spectacular. And while the paints on his other piece, the ‘Bot Head based Atari Punk that is pictured below, are equally meticulous in their application, it is the “Mecha Virus” addition of found electronics that immediately steal one’s attention. Fitted with a handmade circuit board inside, Atari Punk has light sensors and a low-frequency oscillator installed, allowing it to emit an appropriately disqueting tone from atop its wooden pedestal base.

Violence Toy’s Untitled #1

For their second contribution to this exhibition, their ‘Bot Head decorated Untitled #1, Violence Toy‘s Zach Taylor & Ezra Haidet retain a mostly sickly green and bruised purplish-red tonality, finished with a prominent splattering of crimson. There’s a disturbing allure to this piece’s eyes, its unwavering gaze granting a soulful yearning to this vinyl work.

Scott Wilkowski’s Infected Cyclops & Infected Cyclops Skeleton

And, finally, located on the opposite wall is a selection of resin pieces by Scott Wilkowski. Built from the smaller Horn Head rendition from Kidrobot‘s Madballs Blind Box Vinyl Mini Series, Wilkowski sculpted an original skeletal system to fit the form. Titled Infected Cyclops Skeleton on its own, it was displayed in six unique multi-color, marbled combinations. In addition, this inner bone structure was further evolved into the Infected Cyclops, the shape situated within transparent cast shells of the Horn Head’s exterior, with five of these “double cast” renditions present. And, in the end, these felt like a perfect embodiment of this exhibition’s purpose, literally revealing that there is more to Madballs than what is on the surface.
The Madballs All-Star Art Jam and Exhibition group showcase at myplasticheart had its opening reception on Thursday, May 18th from 7-10pm. All works in this exhibition will remain on display until June 18th, 2017 at the gallery’s physical location (210 Forsyth St., New York, NY 10002).

View the gallery’s dedicated page for the exhibition

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