If you’re into figurines and collectables, don’t miss the Bootleg Toy Supervillain exhibition at Kult Gallery, featuring the work of The Sucklord, the coolest bootleg toymaker you’ve probably never heard of. We sat down with the artist for a chat when he was in Singapore for the show’s opening:
Thank you for taking the time to speak to me
Well, it’s in my interests to do this!
Let’s talk a little bit about your practice– what made you decide to create these bootleg toys?
I’ve been inclined to design and make toys my entire life – I grew up in the golden age of Star Wars figures and I never quite felt like I was happy just playing with toys, I always wanted to do things to them. But I just couldn’t get a toy company to make my shit, maybe because of my personality flaws, or maybe because there was just no place for my ideas. My first inclination to make a toy in a factory was in 1992, and there was just nowhere for an artist to make a toy.
When the designer toy world started coming up with all those things like Kidrobot and all that crap, nobody wanted to give me a deal and I got pissed off. I thought well, “Fuck you,” I’m just going to make a fuck you toy.
I’m going to make it myself and because of that, it’s going to suck because I don’t know what I’m doing.
And so, instead of trying to gloss it over, I made it such that the bad parts were what made it cool, and I called them “bootlegs” because I was stealing things– like ripping off Star Wars. It was a way to get people interested in me because I was working off something that was already familiar and known.
Do you get into trouble with copyright?
Why do you think that’s the case?
A lot of reasons. It’s all so small and underground it’s probably not worth it, they’d probably lose money.
Anyway, it’s an appropriation, a parody. Look at (my) gay Stormtrooper – there is no real gay Stormtrooper that I’m competing with, there is no category for that (in Star Wars). It’s just a feeling I get, but maybe –at least with Star Wars—this benefits the brand, to have it so enmeshed in the arts, folklore and popular culture. As long as nothing is defamatory, deceptive or confusing, it doesn’t hurt. It helps them. It just demonstrates the durability and applicability of their brand.
They can’t make a gay Stormtrooper but it benefits them that one exists in the world – I hope.
Why did you decide to come to Singapore to exhibit? Is this your first time in Asia?
No, I’ve been to Singapore twice before, never as an artist though. I go where the action is – if I get invited, I go! I knew Andy Heng from his blog (Toysrevil) and he used to write extensively about my stuff, back in the day before Instagram. He was essential to my business model. In my mind, I always knew that Singapore and toys were always connected because of him. And of course, with the big Singapore Toy, Game and Comic Convention I knew there was a scene here. I’d been sending pieces to Kult for group shows previously, and then they told me “Hey, we want to give you a whole fucking (show).”
So I said, “Ok!”
How did you select the pieces to be displayed here?
Well, most of them are from the past year. I wanted to make it so that people who had never seen this before could get a sense of how applicable it was. I wanted to have as many different extensions as possible, to show that my work could be representational of any subject you can think of. I wanted to be as broad as possible. I mean I do a lot of weird, arcane, cypher- like pieces that don’t make any sense, but here, I wanted something that would allow a lot of other people to come into it.
I make these toys in different sizes, and sometimes they don’t have a package, but it’s usually almost always a background, with the bubble and a figure under it.
Sometimes, I’ll do it in more abstract ways, but I chose not to include those kinds of pieces in this show.
What do you think your works are – are they sculptures, collectables, artworks, or are they toys?
They’re not really toys because toys are things that you can play with. Generally, they are for kids –although you can have toys for adults – they have no play value as you would say in the toy industry. My work is more figurative. I’m not sure if they are really sculptures. I would say that they are more collages which just happen to have a three-dimensional element.
We’ve read of you being described as “a performance artist that has found a brilliant way to monetize his performance art” — do you think this a good or correct description of what you do?
There is an element of performance, but that’s not all there is to it. If you look at my works up on the wall, nobody’s performing shit! There’s a certain quasi-fictional story of the person who’s making this and the way that it’s acted out as a kind of lifestyle — I do shows where sometimes there’s some kind of spectacle or scene, or something will happen.
We used to do these parties where there would be strippers and drugs and debauchery and the toys were kind of being pulled out of this. The idea that the toys were coming out of this illicit experience, there’s a rebelliousness to it– I guess maybe that’s kind of like performance art.
I mean, I’m not getting up on a stage and rolling around in action figures or anything like that! It’s more that this is a lifestyle — a person, this Sucklord character that I’ve created. He’s supposed to be this guy making bootlegs.
When people buy this stuff, I’d do things like sell to them on the street. I’d go out of my way to make it seem like they were doing something illegal. I wanted people to feel like they were doing something wrong, crossing some sort of line, or entering some sort of space where they’re not sure how they should feel, or whether they should like it. In this way it’s performative I suppose, but whether that’s true or not is for others to decide.
Do you have a personal favourite work?
No, I hate them all.
Oh come on, no you do not!
Well, I consider all the works to be a singular piece.
I see lots of boys’ toys. Do you do anything with Barbie dolls?
No. It’s just such a well-trod target, and there’s so much to lampoon about Barbie that I felt that she’s been overdone. And with her clothing and her hair, it’s hard to copy that stuff. If I want to make some commentary on things that are feminine or female-oriented, I have other female forms that I use. I use a lot of Madonna and Princess Leia (for example). I like making women into monsters– not that I think they are monsters– but they should be able to have fun too. The female doesn’t always have to be something beautiful or sexual, women can be monsters as well.
What do you think of Singapore?
It’s great – I’ve only been here for a couple of days and I wish I could smoke weed, but it’s really nice. I don’t know what it’s like politically, a lot of people have said all kinds of stuff about it, but you know, it’s nice, clean and efficient and everybody is well-behaved. I love it here, I’d love to come back and spend a longer period of time here.
I think as Singaporeans get older we tend to appreciate different things in our society.
Well, America is perfect in every way – it’s always a step down whenever we leave! I mean I come to places like this and I think “Why the fuck do I still live in New York?”
There are places in the US where a foreigner might get more than just a perturbed stare, they might just tell you to get the fuck out, it’s disgusting and I hate it.
What would you like your Singapore audience to know about your work?
How much it costs because I want to sell it!
Being here, I don’t feel like I’m in a foreign country, or that there’s some kind of cultural divide I’m trying to cross or that I need to convey anything particular. This is just something I’m doing, and it’s for everybody, I want people in Singapore to think what I want people everywhere to think – I want them to like it and to fuckin’ buy it! I want them to think I’m special.
The Sucklord’s Bootleg Toy Supervillain exhibition at Kult Gallery runs till 10 November.
(This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity)