When your mother's a muse

The Golddigger by co-founding Toyist Dejo displays the collective's trademark bold, unblended colors, and a style that reflects a contemporary return to primitive iconography and representation. (Photo by Mark Greenberg)

The Dutch Toyists give up control in the name of art

Reading art history is not unlike watching West Side Story. For a good hundred years, modern artists drew lines in the dirt. Manifestos were written, tomatoes and fists were thrown, and rival movements were joined. That old-fashioned passion went out with the touchy-feely "everything goes" attitude of Post-Modernism sometime around the Vietnam War.

A contemporary manifestoed group is now preparing to invade San Antonio from abroad. Put your duct tape away; they are a friendly group with an impish name: the Toyists. Robot Art Gallery's October exhibition, Invasion of the Toyists, is the result of gallery owner/director Lara August and artist/curator Joan Fabian's shared interest in bringing the international group of artists to San Antonio. Fabian first encountered Toyism (which has nothing to do with toys) through an artist friend in Holland. Fabian and her friend were asked to become members of the movement but declined the invitation although they loved the work.

Toyism is a collaborative painting movement that began in a basement in Emmen, Holland in 1992. Dutch artist Luit Dejo wrote a manifesto with 25 rules that are, unfortunately, secret to all but Toyists. Originally there were only three members: Dejo, and two others known as Blaak and Leth. I say "known as" because Toyist artists assume fictional names with which to sign their work. In doing so, they hope to counter the art world's worship of the individual by forming an anonymous collective.

Das Toyisten Komen!

9am-5pm Mon-Fri & by appt.
Oct 1-Dec 31
Opening reception:
7-9pm Fri, Oct 1
Robot Art Gallery
724 S. Alamo

8am-3pm Mon-Fri
Oct 1-31
Twin Sisters Bakery & Café downtown
124 Broadway

Oct 1-31
The Bijou Theatre at Crossroads Mall
4522 Fredericksburg
Trying to divine Toyism's manifesto is a real job. The manifesto is known to the artists as Moeder, Dutch for "mother." Each artist is seen as a father and their paintings as offspring. Any resemblance among the works - and there is a strong stylistic resemblance between Toyist paintings - is a result of the fathers' connection to the manifesto.

"The paintings are narrative, innovative, and imaginative. A world full of colour, transparency and clarity drawn from reality, the surreal, and fantasy," proclaims their website. This isn't your grandpa's surrealism though, kiddo. Rather than being Daliesque, Toyism resembles children's art, with bold, unblended colors. Raised dots resemble Oceanic or aboriginal art while the style of drawing looks like computer-drawn cartoons. The amoeba-like quality is part Joan Miró, part free-flowing, hipster doodle. Each artist has a symbol that recurs in his paintings. You know a Blaak painting, for example, by his space shuttle icon that navigates surreal situations time and again.

Narrative is integral to the Toyist experience. Brochures and postcards will be on hand at the exhibition to provide stories for each of the paintings. "A work of a Toyist cannot be seen without the narrative!" Dejo wrote in an e-mail. The artists construct story lines they believe "shake people awake."

"The innovation in their work comes from free association between the group, influenced by being human," explains Fabian. "Humans have dreams, have sex, like to eat, drink, and enjoy nature (at least the Dutch do). They break rules of color contrasts and form that provoke personal narratives on the part of the viewer."

"Humans have dreams, have sex, like to eat, drink, and enjoy nature (at least the Dutch do)," curator Joan Fabian says, explaining the Toyists' connection to their basic humanness, and allegiance to their secret manifesto, Moeder, or Mother. (Photo by Mark Greenberg)
Marking the movement's 10-year anniversary, Toyism revamped itself in 2002. That year, Dejo retreated into the woods for inspiration while Blaak traveled through Russia, China, and Southeast Asia. The original three found further inspiration in other artists' work and decided to open membership to artists worldwide. No longer just Dutch, though they are all still men, Toyism now includes Toescat, a French-American living in New York, Miku, Link, and Jaf'r. Their press release states, "New fathers from the entire world may flirt with Mother. By a mutual love, the new father is taken up and recognized." (Don't be scared, dear reader. It's not Jonestown, it's just art.)

"They follow `their Mother` like artists do a muse," Fabian says of the Toyists relationship to the Manifesto. "She really doesn't exist but in their minds. I think it stands for their idea of value, or beauty, if you want to use that word." Beauty is a concept that has been steadily reemerging in art. Everyone associated with the exhibition is eagerly awaiting the art's arrival because, coming from the Dutch painterly tradition, the works are said to be extremely well crafted.

While they exhibit steadily and sell out their shows abroad, San Antonio is Toyism's second U.S. venue. (They showed in New York in 1993 and 1998.) The artists are excited about coming to town for the opening October 1, and plan to make some other tourist stops along the way. Graceland, for example, will see them before we do. The artists asked what they should wear to the opening (i.e. costumes or no costumes). It's no joke, though, and in the internationalist tradition of inviting an honored guest to art openings, August and Fabian have invited Mayor Ed Garza to attend, if that is his real name. •

By Catherine Walworth


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