Cast In Plastic at Domy Books: More Than Toys

Justin Anville's take on the Storm trooper
Justin Anville's take on the Storm trooper

Want to see more of the artwork from Cast in Plastic? Check out our slideshow.

For the casual observer, the phrase "custom toy exhibition," is intriguing. But what could be so interesting about a bunch of toys? Don't be fooled; these works of art are anything but child's play.

If you're looking for a big show in a small package, look no further than Domy Book's new exhibition, "Cast in Plastic, Art from the Designer Toy Revolution."

Minutes into the opening Saturday night, it became clear why this growing form of art is being called a revolution.

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Hundreds packed the small bookstore to catch a glimpse of the latest work of more than 30 different local and international artists, each with its own diverse background, style and personality. The realm of customized toys is where an artist's creativity and vision merge into an art form all its own.

"It's like a blank canvas," Houston artist Justin Anville told Art Attack. "You have the ability to take it as far as you want to go and change whatever you want; it's just a very modern way of doing something unique with the traditional mediums while being unlimited in your creativity."

The walls were lined with toys of all sizes, shapes, colors, and platforms, each one leaving you standing around like a wide-eyed kid in a candy store, unable to choose which piece to consume next. Viewers ate up each one as they bounced around the room, struggling to control their spreading appetites. From the quirky to the bizarre, the humorous to the political, the fanciful world of custom designer toys was captivating the audience in a colorful, curious display.

Anville, who attended the Art Institute of Houston, began his career drawing and painting, getting involved with the gig poster scene early on, which springboarded him into making prints. His experimentation with painting custom toys was jump-started a year ago as his imagination was sparked by artists like Frank Kozik, whose use of color schemes and design aesthetics grabbed his attention. Anville adapted his painting and drawing skills onto the designs of his custom toys. A resin bust primed and painted with acrylics, then highlighted with orange ultra-violet paint on the mask, Anville's piece, "Military Chertrooper" is a play on the classic Star Wars storm trooper with a twist: A modern military paint scheme, faded and rusted to contrast the antiquated world with the new.

"I'm making an indirect comment on the deindividualization of identity by the military," Anville said. "While it's effective and important, it's a statement about the stagnation of the idea, about the old concept of the military in general."

The Custom Toy Art scene is an off-shoot of the Designer Toy scene, Cast In Plastic curator Marie Ung told Art Attack, where hobbyists who didn't have access to the people at the Designer Toy companies bought the regular releases of toys such as Dunnys and Qees and repainted them in their own vision to show off their customizing skills.

"The toy companies quickly caught on that there was a new market to reach and started releasing unpainted versions of their toys, creating a new launchpad of creative expression for artists of all stripes," Ung said.

Some simply paint the existing toy, imbuing it with their signature style and flair, Ung said, while others use the toy as a base to create something entirely new.

The designer toy scene began in the 1990s in Hong Kong and Tokyo with artists like Michael Lau, Eric So and BountyXHunter pioneering the movement, Ung said, with Kid Robot's founder Paul Budnitz being instrumental in spreading it to the U.S., igniting the movement that many toy companies have since followed. The toy movement has never been more popular, Ung said.

Toy customization is all in the details. Houston artist Valerie G's "Manbearpig," based on the South Park character, is no better example of this attention to elaborate character formation, a project taking more than two weeks and 20 hours of work to complete. Experimentation with textures and developing the toy's personality is Valerie G's focus.

First painted with acrylics, over 1000 pom-poms sculpt out the shape of the 7-inch vinyl munny, which was then covered with poly fur, glass eyes, a leather mouth, and polymer clay for the eyelids, nose and tooth. The end result is a plush toy formed from the vinyl platform.

Born in New York City, Valerie G is a professional musician who began her art career as a hobbyist while studying ceramic sculpture and pottery with artist June Woest at Urban Artists Studio in Houston. Her fascination with toy customization first started with her collection of UglyDolls by creators David Horvath and Sun-Min Kim.

"I was inspired by their use of distinct personalities and background stories in the characters they brought to life," Valerie G told Art Attack. "I then realized the potential of my background in sculpting to customize some vinyl toys of my own."

"Making custom toys is a chance to explore another side of myself, my imagination and creativity," Valerie G continued. "It's an escape from everyday things."

As its popularity continues to grow, and the platforms for custom toy art expand to new mediums, artists of all backgrounds will look to put their stamp on it.

Art isn't about trying to sell everything you make, Anville said, that's not what it's here for; each time you create you have the opportunity to make an impact, to affect someone. That's what it's about.

Through June 23 at Domy Books. For more information, call 713-523-3669 or visit

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