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High Art Happy Meal

  Curated by Adam Cohen of Gagosian ilk, the presentation showcases an exhausting 152 almost-photo-realistic renderings of Happy Meal toys, the imagery of which he fleamed from hours of scouring eBay postings. 

 

Focusing on childhood iconography is an ongoing theme for the artist, whose past work has featured on ’90s heroes like Bart Simpson and Snoopy. We at office recently caught up with our buddy Olly and chatted about his tenacious nihilism and penchant for cartoons.

 

 

How's your nihilism? It was pretty strong last time we chatted. You may be surprised to hear that I don’t think nothing is important anymore. 

 

My basic feeling ​is ​that even though our ​conscience is constantly compromised by the distractions of a capitalist culture we are essentially guided by a moral compass that will be very hard to deconstruct under whatever changing cultural conditions. The difference from previous generations is that we have to work much harder in the 21st century than ever before in order to not compromise our natural disposition. In a culture of excess I don't feel its a case of nothing being important anymore, I think it​'​s more of a needle in the haystack scenario where you are forced to sift through mountains of coal to find the real diamonds​; ​the challenge is therefore the commitment to instinct without being mislaid by unnecessary and shallow distractions. But if this is question about me rather than that collective consciousness then I would say ​I​am a little less nihilistic and a fraction more optimistic than in previous years. Perhaps fatherhood has made me see the bigger picture in existence. ​

 

I'd hope so. ​Do you think you gave legitimacy to the toys? How?

 

For me the ambition of painting 152 oil paintings was as a project primarily rooted in technical and artistic evolution. ​I​f you paint a large quantity of paintings​​ using other people​'​s photographs as the source of inscription​,​ there is no way that you are going to learn from the experience — this was always the driving force of the project for me. I wasn’t intentionally trying to elevate the happy meal toys from their humble origins​,​ locked within the recesses of eBay​-​seller galleries​,​ but in just the process of turning them into oil paintings and placing them on the wall of a gallery, or even just removing them from the digital realm, they were becoming something very different from both objects that you get free with a burger​,​ but also as objects that are being presented for purchase on eBay. The differences are therefore context and medium — a transition from​ the​ digital realm ​to​ the physical realm.

 

Why were the pieces left unframed?

 

F​raming the works would have been too fussy.

 

Why do you think you continue to focus on​ cartoons and​ childhood items in your work?

 

Perhaps I am worried about the inevitable prospect of having to grow up.

 

 

​You'd hope that in your late thirties this might start to precipitate. ​What's you​r​ specific childhood experience with McDonalds' toys?

 

I have eaten quite a few ​M​c​D​onalds ​H​appy ​M​eals in my lifetime​,​ although I haven’t been to Mc​D​onalds now for about ten years​. E​veryone loves a free toy (both parents and kids) and my daughter nowadays won’t let me pass a bodega without buying a kinda surprise for the same reason. This project, however, was never about M​c​Donalds​;​ it was more about finding a fertile and consistent source of images for making paintings. If you type Happy Meal toys into the search engine on ​eB​ay​,​ you are given 22,000 listings — more than enough options to keep anybody's attention​.​

 

How much do the toys go for?

 

I'm surprised people sell/buy that shit. ​A​nything from around ​$​3​,​500 for a complete collection of ​H​appy ​M​eal toys from a specific year to ​two​ dollars for a single object. I​'​m not sure that people are actually buying or selling any of it — the items aren’t particularly collectable​,​ not only by the fact that there are hundreds of the same items on sale​,​ but over the course of the year I came across the same listings many times over in my searches. It​'​s more surprising to me that people are selling rusty nails. 

 

 

Growing up my mum had a massive collection of those toys on display in her office that she stole from my brother and myself. It was actually really cool! ​I wonder if they're still there...

 

Wow.