It only took a moment to get me hooked. I was waiting for a bus in Haight-Ashbury when I saw a peculiar thing across the street. It’s not unusual to see odd things in San Francisco, but this was different. It was a rabbit with a cigarette hanging out of its mouth.
The display window was for a Kidrobot store, and this chain smoking rabbit was my first introduction to vinyl toys, limited edition collectibles that have quickly gained a foothold in the lowbrow art world. Some of them are cute or commercial, others are bizarre or offensive, and fans of this movement will argue endlessly about which pieces are, or are not “art.”
One fact every collector can agree on is that the hobby is hugely addictive. Grown men and women with a taste for nostalgia or weirdness will sometimes spend thousands of dollars per year on vinyl toys. Some who commission artists to sculpt and paint one-of-a-kind toys have spent tens of thousands on their collections.
The vinyl toy that first caught my attention five years ago has now led to the purchase of nearly 100 pieces, carefully arranged and displayed in my home as if I were curating a museum. My most cherished vinyl toy – a sculpture of a black rabbit being squeezed out of a paint tube, of which only 35 were made – recently sold on Ebay for nearly $400.
Each year, vinyl toys continue to gain mainstream acceptance from the traditional art world. The Museum of Modern Art in New York has 13 pieces on display, and the Smithsonian has included vinyl toys in traveling exhibits. Artists like Shepard Fairey, KAWS, Ron English, Frank Kozik, Gary Baseman and Luke Chueh continue to contribute both canvas paintings and toys to the modern art scene. As with all art, getting involved is best left for each person to decide for themselves. Or not, if you value a healthy savings account.
Click below in the gallery to see images of Paul’s personal collection. All images by Paul Ryan.
ABOUT THE AUTHORPaul Ryan is an award-winning reporter and photographer who now works in the entertainment industry in Los Angeles. He’s a regular columnist for the Reader Weekly in Duluth, Minnesota.