The Prince doll and the Art of Troy Gua
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Prince the Funk-God
Something came to my inbox the other day that really elicited a strong reaction in me: a picture of a Thunderbirds-like doll of Prince, the pop-funk-god and rock musician. For a while I sat there gauging my feelings on it, and knew that I had to find out more about it. As a Prince fan, the doll brought a host of memories and feelings back to life that had been dormant for a long time. Soon, I was on Troy Gua's website, the creator of the doll, to find out about his art and work.
What I discovered there re-opened my imagination and took me back on a tour of the world of modern art. It actually re-established my confidence in the relevance of modern art, which I found surprising as I've tended to stay away from it in recent years.
From pieces such as his trademarked Colorbandz paintings, to his pieces that explore the idea of fixing failed paintings, in his failed/fixed series (see example works of both series below).
Eventually, I got into contact with Troy Gua himself about the possibility of writing an article about his work and asked for his permission to display his art work on this hubpage.
Though his recent work has taken him into the curious and fascinating world of re-creating Prince in his various guises, he's obviously not just a designer of dolls and miniatures. His art and artistic expression covers a wide range of different areas, always pushing forward and using whatever media best conveys his ideas. Yet, he is happy to admit that Prince played a major role in influencing him toward this diversity.
As he says: "...Prince’s musical virtuosity has always inspired me to be the best I can be at whatever I choose to do artistically. And his eclecticism showed me that I didn’t have to stick to one thing, one style, one type of art – that it was OK to explore as many ideas and ways of expressing myself as I saw fit. " 1
Media and Personality Cult
From our very first communication, my first impression was of an entirely open and engaging person, not interested in hiding behind any artistic facade or ego. I found this refreshing, but perhaps not entirely surprising when considering his series of artworks entitled 'Pop Hybrids', which deconstructs famous personalities. These are, he says '"the reduction of personality into logo, the reduction of individuality into the collective, the reduction of photography into design." 2
A similar treatment on his own function as an artist, would surely leave little space to manoeuvre, if he too were deconstructed and transformed into an abstraction. This recognition, I supposed, was the reason for his openess and honest approach. Why hide behind a mask, when the mask is hardly real and can be dismantled? This is fascinating considering his own interest in recognition and fame, at his own "stab at immortality" 3 as he puts it - when in itself fame is often a plural-projection that rarely touches on the real person, even if assumed facades can provide a cover for greater freedom of expression.
As a fitting example, Prince, following his first major live TV performance and terrible live interview afterward, where he clammed up in front of millions of people, vowed to never make the same error again. He decided that the band should all project entirely created images from that point onward. This propelled him into constructing numerous alter-egos, that gave him free reign to invent and re-invent himself in anyway he saw fit, and which enhanced the mystery of who he really was as a person.
However, it is precisely the self-awareness that Gua demonstrates in relation to the subject of media personalities, and in his other areas of interest, that produces interesting and relevant art.
For example, in his piece 'This is Art -> <- This is Not Art', he brings his awareness to the discussion of what constitutes (modern) art at all, and nails it succinctly, if somewhat abruptly. Gua, however, says that this piece comes from the more cynical perspective of "art for artists" 3 and is something he wishes to move away from (such as his Pissing Contest art). However, it does demonstrate an incisive approach to his work .
Isolation, Truth & Transparency
While a lot of modern art comes across as rather self-indulgent or obscure, and other pieces are sometimes designed to offend and push moral/social boundaries in rather predictable ways, Gua's work challenges and confronts the viewer in a more concise and meaningful way - and forces a moment of silent recognition.
For example, Monument is a challenging presentation of the effects of war. This isn't self-indulgent, but thought provoking and serves as a reminder. It captures the horror of war by mixing children's toy figurine body parts inside transparent boxes: possibly the remains of teenage soldiers who were dished out like toys destined for mass slaughter in Vietnam – the unanswered questions regarding the loss of over 4000 men in Iraq.
Likewise, the graphical representation of men and women in signage form are an expression of urban normality, but this time with missing arms and legs. The gaps between the signs speak for themselves. In an understated way, the brutality of war is brought right home and into our familiar visual landscape.
No answers are provided by this installation, rather, it raises questions about the unsolved nature of grief and of trauma.
Likewise Chrysalis makes the viewer pause for thought . Wrapping a house in (transparent) cellophane conceptualises perfectly the isolation our modern housing arrangements have created, disconnected as we are from the rest of society, where we can see out, but no-one can see in. Perhaps in tribal times, we would have lived much closer together and in closer communion with each other. Also, the giant bar code reduces the house to being a commodity like any other, which is representative of our modern commercial world where everything is disposable.
However, as the name of this piece implies, it is also a place of transformation, a cocoon where we can transform ourselves in the safety of our own space. A trade-off is clearly implied and a paradox. Possibly, until we all emerge from our cocooned state to live a life of true aliveness once again.
This exploration and (re)affirmation of real values is also explored in some of his installations and performances, such as in his explorative work called "Patience", that can be viewed below.
Here Troy Gua attempts to control the urge toward instant gratification, and be able to literally watch the paint dry!
Video by Damon Mori.
There is humour and playfulness to his work, such as in the piece 'In Case of Emergency' (which raises our relationship with food) and an awareness of the present moment, qualities which imbue his pieces with a great deal of soul, such as in his piece At the Foot of the Opening at the Beginning and the End of Being. (see below)
Le Petit Prince
Gua's Prince designs are a departure from the other work he has been involved with and is a return to doing things that make him happy.
In his own words the Prince doll is "a loving and humorous tribute to my hero."3 Also, rather than just do art for artists, he wanted to do something that had a wider appeal, or as he puts it, he wanted there to be "multiple access points for as many different types of people and ideas as possible. " 1 Fascinated since childhood with Gerry Anderson's 'Thunderbirds', Le Petit Prince is therefore a culmination point of several strands: media, personality cult (and it doesn't come thicker than with Prince and his fans),Thunderbirds, humour, and a rejection of clever and cynical art in favour of following interests which are closer to the heart.
Prince fans grasp immediately what Troy Gua has achieved in the creation of the doll. The indelible mark that Prince and his music has left on people springs back to life, as the doll captures an essence that is so fundamentally Prince. Being able to perceive clearly certain essences and draw them out into the physical world, is in a sense shamanistic quality, and a function of an artist.
The replicas of Prince's outfits, which marked his musical changes from one phase to another, connect in people's minds with certain events in their lives at that time. Whether it was the first time they came across the soaring beauty and pain of Purple Rain, or whether it was the first time they came across the laced beats of Alphabet Street.
It's all there in one small, Thunderbirds-like doll.
In fact, it's somewhat surprising that such a small and humorous effigy of a pop star should draw out so much feeling from people.
But that is art at work - and when the subject is someone like Prince, it's not surprising either.
Prince wasn't and still isn't just about music, but about artistic exploration in a wider sense. Allowing oneself to be whoever one wants to be, even for a moment. To step out from self-consciousness, embarrassment and shame into a world of glorious color, freedom and excitement.
Prince the dancer, multi-instrumentalist, beat programmer, designer, producer, writer, vegan... and Jehovah's Witness!
As Gua says: "I was immediately transfixed by this ultra-sexual, androgynous, other-worldly creature’s equally alien and ambiguous music, message, and indeed his entire aesthetic. He was so confident, so self-assured, so astoundingly talented, so… weird. He taught me that it was cool to be different, cool to express myself with my clothes and my hair, cool to be… weird." 1
Troy Gua's Le Petit Prince has hit a nerve in people and to his credit, he is very gracious about it and happy that it is making so many people smile. It is a good example of what happens when people just do what they genuinely love doing: doors open, new connections are made, new avenues are travelled with ease. When I asked him how often he was contacted over the doll, his response was "daily". A doll of lesser quality would not have attracted so much attention, which is a testament to his work. As he says: " I knew at some point I was going to make this little guy but I knew that when I did it, I was going to have to make it so perfect that it was kind of daunting to me. " 3
The convergence of his interests (the media, the facade of personality) is perfectly expressed when centred on Prince, as Prince has become the very embodiment of this type of fascinating ambiguity in the world of pop culture - something that Prince knowingly played on with a great deal of skill - which itself only increased the intrigue.
On this photo of Le Petit Prince, notice the headlines on the newspapers - a curious alteration from the original cover - which shows Gua's own curiosity and interest in the way his own personality was possibly shaped by the pop star's own relationship with the media.
Maybe he will further explore Prince's ambiguous persona through the media in different ways in the years to come, as it is a subject that isn't easily exhausted.
As a final thought, perhaps Le Petit Prince is so attractive to people because as a small androgynous looking person ("I'm not a woman, I'm not a man, I'm something that you'll never understand" – I Would Die For You by Prince) , Prince has an allure to both men and women alike and resonates with everyone, as psychologically we all tend toward being androgynous.
So what's not to like, to ideally own a small piece of Prince – essentially a projected piece of ourselves - and have him in our own living room?
Unfortunately, the doll is not for sale, though he plans to publish Le Petit Prince picture book.
For more information on Troy Gua and his art, check out his website.