Currently making a full on charge at the world of art toys is Will Rimel, a ceramic sculptor turned amateur toy maker. Most well known for ceramic heads, his concepts use the idea of the “freak show” to question what “normal” means and how we view ourselves. He is also fascinated the life that toys have and how the relationship between toy and owner changes with age. His work includes vomit-covered ceramic “freaks”; ceramic heads spewing puke, and more recently, art toys that have barfing butts. But it is not all barf and butts with Will; he has some serious sculpting chops. The attention to detail in his ceramic heads and figures is enough to make a lesser artist seriously reconsider their career choice. Through his use of under glazes and firing techniques, each piece develops a personality of its own; a quality that has already began to bleed over into his recently released “Funk Muffin” set of toys. I was lucky enough to speak with Will, and hope that this interview will allow you to peer into the freak show hidden within his head.
Can you tell me about yourself? What sort of art background do you have?
I am a 26 year old artist currently based out of St. Louis, MO and I spend my time making ceramic sculpture as well toys. I received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in ceramics from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville in 2011 and have been doing yearlong artist-in-residence programs for the past few years.
Is there any meaning behind the name Theloneus Kool? Is this a moniker you plan on using as you mover forward with your artwork, or would you rather have people know you as Will Rimel?
Haha, so glad you asked about that. It’s actually a pretty goofy/dumb story. In high school my friend found a yearbook from the 70′s, which had a picture of a basketball player with a massive afro named “Julius Fly”. At the time we thought this was hilarious so we made up a fake friend that “Julius Fly” would have and named him “Theloneus Kool”. It has been more of a hindrance as I move forward in my art career to be honest. Most people think it’s “the lone us, kool” instead of a name…it is also tricky when telling people how to find me on Instagram or contact me by email. At this point I assume I’ve missed several emails due to people not spelling my name correctly. Changing my moniker to my initials WAR (William Archer Rimel) would be ideal since that is how I sign/stamp all of my art.
So you are a ceramicist by trade, but you are currently making some waves with your recent toy creations. How/when did you decide to get into the world of art toys?
I’ve been fascinated by toys and have obsessively collected them for as long as I can remember. I never let my parents throw any toys away…no matter how broken it was. That’s why I still have April O’Neil’s right leg floating around in one of my toy bins; somehow I’ve lost the rest of her. It was always a pipe dream for me to produce a toy somehow and figured this was an impossible dream. I thought only people with money to send designs off and have vinyl copies made could live the toy life. Discovering the world of custom resin toys on Instagram this year showed me that is dream could be more of a reality than I thought. I immediately tried producing a small run of resin figures and everything basically snowballed from there.
You have recently been doing a lot of custom toys; and even had a piece in the Kidrobot Hello Trikky show. What was it like producing work for a Kidrobot show?
Doing something with Kidrobot has always been a fantasy of mine, so when they said I could be a part of show I jumped at the chance. I’m surprised they let me in the show honestly; I had only ever made 2 figures with Sculpey before making my piece. My lack of exposure and experience in the toy world made me extremely nervous since it was my first toy show. But it made me want to make the piece that much better, I just wanted to come out of the gate swinging!
Aside from the custom you produced for the Hello Trikky show, which I loved; my favorite of your recent customs (which can be found at http://funkmuffins.bigcartel.com/) seemed to be heavily influenced by Dima Drjuchin, what other artists do you look to for inspiration?
Haha I believe you’re referring to “Gump”. I am a fan of his work, but that was a happy accident. I was customizing a Kidrobot Trikky and I often use a melting vomit design as well as a variety of third eyes. So when I combined my design with a Tricky giving it Batman like ears, boom…Dima Drjuchin! As for artist I look at, I like Ron English, Kevin Snipes, Tim Hawkinson, Scott Wilkowski, Wayne White, Alex Pardee and my buddy Yotburd to name a few.
Along with the customs, I noticed that you were also working on a platform of your own, and that you received some negative feedback on the idea of creating a DIY platform. Can you go into more detail about this?
I remember catching some flack for posting that toy design. My plan was never to use this figure as a platform toy, it was meant to be a limited resin run. I chalk the negative feedback up to using the wrong words to describe it. I believe I said something along the lines of “Hopefully people will want to customize it”. To me this meant that people would to paint the toy some interesting way. The figure itself has a speech bubble on its stomach and I imagined people filling this with all kinds of things. Using the word “customize” in that context grouped it in with platform toys, which was not my intention. I plead pure ignorance and my newbie status in the toy world for that. But hey, at least it got people talking!
If you are not planning on doing a DIY platform, are you considering creating any original toys for a production run? Or do you plan on going the Doubleparlour route of creating mostly one-offs?
I’d still like to make the toy with interchangeable heads that stirred up so much commotion into a resin run. The fact that I could make tons of different heads for people to collect really excites me. I’d love to still go the Doubleparlour route as well and do one-offs at the same time. It’s just two different approaches, make lots of cheaper toys or make expensive one-offs. I think at the end of the day they both balance out about the same.
It seems like your material of choice for your toys is Sculpy Firm. Do you prefer using Sculpy to the earthenware clay you use when creating your ceramic heads? What benefits does Sculpy have over earthenware, or vice versa? Have you considered using a material that performs more like earthenware? Maybe something like Apoxie Sculpt?
Sculpey and the clay I use (grogless Red Earthenware) are very similar and yet very far apart. Sculpey is great because you don’t need an expensive kiln to cook it, it stays workable forever so I can do several projects at once without anything drying out and I don’t have to worry about any little parts popping off or cracking like you do with clay. One downside is the material cost, about $15 for a small box of Sculpey that makes a handful of toys, versus a bag of clay for $7 and I can make 25-30 heads with, as well as the ability to smooth out the material. If you take a wet brush with water to a rough or freshly carved surface, it will smooth it out perfectly. Sculpey does not do this… every bit of smooth surface you see on my toys was hand smoothed with tools which takes much longer. Clay also develops a firm skin at a certain point making it more tangible while I work, Sculpey is always workable so you constantly have to watch how you handle it as to not smudge detail.
The major difference I see in the materials is the acceptance of them as art mediums. Making something out of clay instead of Sculpey elevates it to a “fine art status”, Sculpey wouldn’t be taken seriously in most galleries that aren’t purely toy based. I think the gap is closing quite a bit though and toys are really proving themselves to definitely be serious fine art objects. I’d love to delve into different materials for making toys like Apoxie Sculpt. I know Doubleparlour and Shadoe Delgado use it a lot. I’m basically so new to the toy world I just haven’t gotten there yet. It started with resin casting, then I discovered Sculpey over vinyl, then Sculpey over foil to make my own designs. March of this year is the first time I made a toy and since then I’ve been soaking up every bit of knowledge I can find online and from other toy makers to up my toy game.
One of the biggest advantages I can see to creating toys as opposed to ceramic sculptures is the ability to do production runs and sell them at a lower cost than their ceramic counterparts, thus making buying art more affordable. Do you agree with this? And are there any ceramic artists that you would like to see make a move to producing art toys for this reason?
The ability to do production runs is definitely an advantage, but you can do a similar thing in clay with slip casting. Robin Van Valkenburgh and Brett Kern both utilize slip casting. Brett’s work is made of several parts, which makes them pricey; where as Robin’s are much more simplified. I believe Suburban Vinyl also carries Robin’s work. Selling art gets tricky…ceramics or toys, not everyone wants the big expensive piece so you have to have some more affordable things. For most ceramic artists, unless you make functional work, it’s hard to have a line of affordable pieces. I was lucky enough to discover clay heads, but those are still expensive to many people. It’s extremely difficult to make something in clay for under $50 that I can still be proud of and is worth making. Toys defiantly have the advantage there. There are very few ceramic artists whose work I think would transition well, mainly because most toys are figurative in some way and a lot of ceramics isn’t figurative at all. But I could definitely see Kevin Snipes and Calvin Ma easily making the transition to the toy world with great success.
Ah, of course Calivin Ma, I could spend hours drooling over his work. It seems like his work could be a huge catalyst in bridging the gap between the fine art and toy art. Based off of that thought, do you think you will ever produce art toys that would be considered a premium version to what we are currently seeing in the industry?
I would love to be a part of taking art toys to that premium fine art status. A lifetime goal would be for me to make some plastic/vinyl one-off pieces and have them be part of a show along side my ceramics in a non-toy based fine art gallery. I think that toys can be taken so much more seriously as a real art form if this kind of thing happens. The toy art world and fine art world are pretty separate as of now, but I’ve always considered my ceramic pieces to be toys. They aren’t made of plastic/resin/vinyl so the toy world doesn’t see them that way, same goes for the fine art world not seeing toys as fine art since plastic/resin/vinyl aren’t seen as traditional fine art mediums.
This may be a stretch, but art toys could be considered comparable to graffiti in that way. In the way that graffiti wasn’t taken seriously to the fine art community, but has recently become accepted due to artists who are making crossovers between studio/street works? It seems like that is exactly what the art toy community needs; more people making move back and forth between the two worlds. Do you think that creating fully poseable toys out of a material like ceramics, similar to Calivin Ma, is enough to do this? Could presenting fine art as toys by distributing them in a blister pack do it? Or is it going to have to be more of a waiting game?
I don’t think that’s a stretch at all, graffiti has always been associated with outsider art and considered “fine art”. I feel that most outsider artist start out not begin taken seriously then eventually move to the serious fine art world. It’s rarer to have people who start out in the fine art world and move backwards to outsider mediums like toys and graffiti. People may just be scared to take the jump. I think if people like Calvin Ma present their work as toys (if he considers them toys) it would definitely be a start in that direction. It’s funny you mention the fine art/blister pack combo…I have something similar in the works. It’s always a waiting game, the difference is how long you have to wait.
I would say that you have had a pretty easy time making the transition to ceramics to art toys. Do you have any suggestions for other artists who are on the edge of breaking into the toy industry?
Just do it! It isn’t as hard or scary as it seems and people are extremely helpful with any questions you may have. Be unique, don’t stop creating, work your ass off and something has got to give eventually. People who work hard get noticed; people that slack off get brushed aside by those willing to put in the effort. Also make friends with people in the industry; that has been the greatest help for me personally.
Thank you for your time, and I look forward to seeing you as a nominee for breakthrough artist at next years Designer Toy Awards.
Thanks again for having me be a part of this it means a lot. I would be honored and beside myself if the folks at the Designer Toy Awards even knew who I was. Hopefully this year will be good to me.