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I Am Legion 3A Custom show Artist Spotlight & Interview: Kenn Munk

With the weeks peeling away we find ourselves getting ever closer to the 3A custom show in San Francisco Nov. 4 - Dec 4. as such we thought we'd take a moment and touch base with another of the artists from the show. We had the unique pleasure to chat with Kenn Munk, graphic designer and toy customizer extraordinaire. For those that aren't familiar with Kenn Munk's customs, for many his work back in 2006 with his show "Everything is Black and White" was seminal. His creative vision of limiting himself to two colors whilst pushing his design aesthetic to the limits has been inspiring to many, and so it was intriguing that we hadn't seen any customs from him in a long time.

Kenn's early work is still strongly collected and his 1:6 figures have been some of the best work out there in terms of strong visuals with a combination of great tactile materials. So we were very excited to see Kenn join in the 3A custom show. With his ability to distill a custom into one clear theme and execute it all the while voicing something deeper in meaning we couldn't wait to chat with him and get his views on toys, art, the future and what his plans for the future are. So lets get started and see what this unique artist has to say... hit the jump to give it a read!

What brought you into toy customizing?
Around 2004 I stumbled upon a design competition to design a qee and through that I found out about the toy scene, I found out about customizing and thought: "oh, this is what I used to do in my childhood, but this time I'll hopefully finish my work and my parents won't tell me off for ruining my toys." I had worked a lot with model kit parts back then and a childhood dream had been to make props and models for films, so all the Tamiya tanks were always turned into something else although not very skillfully and rarely finished. My brain tends to roam and I fairly quickly lose interest in things, so one week's tank-robot-idea got replace be another weeks space scooter idea got replaced by a time traveling dinosaur idea...

Where do you see the future of designer toys heading?
I don't think designer toys have a future, I think it has several. It will branch out further, both in materials and subject matter we're seeing metal sculpture already. it will branch out in different ways, commercially, companies will continue to expand their product lines and brand to as many platforms as possible, creatively there will always be some artists wanting to push the boundaries and it being a young art form, there are plenty of boundaries to be pushed. More on that later

What brought you to the world of 3A?
I more or less stopped customizing toys a few years back, I did the occasional custom for a friend and I didn't buy toys anymore. I did follow from afar a bit and was aware of 3A toys and they were the stuff of my childhood - I think that's what Ashley Wood does very well, he takes the stuff of childhoods and ads a bit of sauciness and an amazing style to them, I was tempted at times to buy something, but didn't cave in. Then at one point I started getting a few emails about a 1:6 scale show I'd done a few years back called "Every Thing is Black or White" that didn't get much attention at the time. I was attracted to 1:6 scale because you sudenly had articulation in your figures, I was never a character designer, but with these you had body language to play with. Only the Hong Kong guys seemed to do 1:6 scale at that time (around 2006-2007) and I thought it'd break in the west soon. When James Brown contacted me about "I Are Legion", I lurked the boards a bit and I thought: "This would be an amazing "last job"." The one that always goes wrong in the movies. It is a good chance to revisit Every Thing is Black or White (except, now a bit less so.) It made me happy that someone had dug up my Black/White toys and gave them some attention and it made me extrememly happy that people started playing a game of "What is this made of?" on the 3A discussion board.

Yeah, I know myself that that is one of the main draws of 1:6 figures to me that you can customize something that’s articulated and it gives you a wider range of movement in poses to evoke a feeling with, and as seen in many of your past works it really gives you the ability to work with different materials in a way that allows for some great textures to challenge the viewer in ways that simply painting something might not. I know for many it was your mixture of materials and keeping it simple with only two colors that drew people into your designs, but what really kept them there was that it always seems like your ideas have a lot more thought go into them then just “this would look cool” and I think that really resonates with people years later.

I know for me it’s kept me coming back to your blog every few months just to see what new great ideas your working on now. Items like your “Dice for a Lie Generator” really show a grand depth that I’d really love to see more in both the art and toy worlds. What are your thoughts on that?
I think there is a lot of depth to be found in the art world. Artists like Charles Avery and Lucy Steggals create "our" kind of work, something that has that storytelling that we all grew up with, with toys often being linked to cartoons or movies. At the moment most objects I design are meant to be played with, handled, worn ( a bit more on that later) the lie generator dice was a ploy to get kids to tell stories - well, lies really about something heroic they'd once done. I think if you want someone to play along and to tell stories of slaying princesses and saving dragons with a straight face, the props need to be believable too, not necessarily "real" but believable, The lie generator itself was made of an old pram and a drawer which in itself is a lie, objectified, I like the transformation of objects and sometimes a 1:1 scale sock becomes a perfectly good 1:6 scale dress.

What future plans do you have for customs, shows?
I have plans for shows, but not toys. After "I Am Legion", I'm done. I have a secret club (that is the name of the project "a secret club" www.schhh.org). It's a project teaching (mainly) kids creative thinking and social skills, sound dull, but it's really playing - I moved from toys to playing. Toys may be featured as an activity at some point, but it won't be designer toys. There will still be paper kits though, but also for a secret club or clients. As for shows, we're currently planning one where we get artists to collect collage materials that they then swap and make a collage from, so again, it's playing, but not with toys. I have great Lego plans though for when my son is old enough - have you seen some of the stuff the grown up lego geeks make? it's amazing, it far surpasses anything that's ever left the Lego factory in terms of sculpting with Lego.

Yes, you know I really love seeing some of the latest works that artists have come up with using Lego’s it’s really challenging the way I look at them as simply building blocks and in many ways it’s more like the work you do where it creates something visual but sometimes something a lot deeper. Any Lego artists / projects that really inspire you?
I'm slowly being sucked into a Lego obsession, but I need to keep it under control for a few years, when my son Mio is old enough we'll build secret castles and space stations all over our flat. There's a dude that calls himself Rogue Bantha on flickr that does some wicked stuff, but like I said, I'm holding back, but it's very tempting to pick up some current, killer sets and keep them for Mr Mio, like vintage wine, when his friends crack out their latest he'll have this weird old stuff.

Are there any artists you personally collect?
I've gotten rid of most stuff, but some things I couldn't part with and I would buy more of: Brian Flynn's figures are pretty damn cool, his ghost-series is amazing and if ever Mars-1 would make another series of minis, I'd be willing to do a lot of pretty horrible things in order to get it. Mars-1 stands out to me, his toys are probably the only ones that aren't rooted in world of childhood cartoons - not that all other toys are based on cartoons, but the aesthetics are linked to that, Mars-1 is visionary stuff, it's a direction I'd personally like to see toys move in - a direction that's removed from the childhood angle.

Mars-1’s invisible plan toys are some of my favorites of his work.
It is pretty amazing, I don't really like his paintings, but his sculpture. wow, it's like having hallucinations in an ancient forest.

What are your top 3 favorite toys?
Mars-1 Invisible Plan is still the best series of minis ever done.
in terms of concept, Nathan Jurevicius is doing something interesting, his toy releases are (or at least they were, don't know if he's still doing it that way) were a linear story about Scarygirl and the people she met on her journey, but it's probably not on my top three. Pete Fowler is, though. His Monsterism universe is the funkiest place, My wife collects Pete Fowler a bit. And, as I said, Brian Flynn is fun.

What’s your favorite toy to customize and why?
With a secret club and all: Wood. Wood is my new vinyl, reclaimed wood, stuff from the streets. We use it for signage, lie generators, accessories to our tents. Looking back, I can't say I had a favorite, they each brought their own challenges, platform toys are easy, but if you crack a non-platform, it feels great. I think toy customization should be taught to kids in arts and crafts classes. It makes you see possibilities in the material.

That’s probably one of the biggest things that really resonated with me in your work is the use of not only mixed media but mostly found objects and yet nothing ever looks like it was just trash or something you’d see found along the side of the road. I love the idea of seeing people challenge themselves with found objects or simply using other objects and reclaiming them for their own unique vision. I agree that it’s something I’d like to see taught to children, I think that nothing really pushes a person creatively more than getting them out of their comfort zone of what a item should be and getting them to think and see those items for another purpose. Children seem really adept at this though already, and I bet that giving children a chance to create their own characters and give voice to their own creations is much better than getting them plugged into the franchise toy and story universe that we see today.

Your new work with A Secret Club sounds intriguing as well. I’ve followed your blog and your design courses for a few years now and it’s great to see that the same ideas are being translated to today’s youth. I hope you come back and tell us more about your work with A Secret Club and your plans for lego’s when your son is old enough. If your other work is any indication I expect it will continue to inspire people for years to come.
Thank you, kind words. I know that from the designer toy perspective, starting to do stuff for and with kids is sort of regressing, but I think the same play-elements can be used for adults and also designer toys, we made stylish monster finger puppets for grown ups at the V&A museum in London last year and - and the queue was out the door the entire evening. People want to play, they just need an excuse.

---- I think that's a good point to wrap it up on. For those interested in seeing more of Kenn's customs check out his flickr page here, and be sure to check out his custom Bothead at the "I am Legion" show at the 1AM Gallery in San Francisco Nov. 4 - Dec 4.

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