Josh Mayhem: Turning Art Toys into Contemporary Sculpture

Josh Mayhem at Avant Gallery

Los Angeles-based artist Josh Mayhem’s lifelong habit of collecting children’s playthings has fueled his passion for transforming said toys into objects d’art. Among his best-known pieces are those constituting his “Blown Away” collection, in which mass-produced forms are covered in strands of resin and layers of acrylic paint to create gravity-defying drips that give the impression of the work being deconstructed by a strong wind. The popularity of this aesthetic has led to Mayhem winning the Custom of the Year award at the 2019 Designer Toys Awards, multiple releases and collaborations with many of the world’s top designer toy artists and producers, participating in TRASHed: Art of Recycling at Coachella Festival, and solo exhibitions at Clutter Gallery in Beacon NY, Bruce Lurie Gallery in Los Angeles CA (as well as an artist residency), PIQ Grand Central Terminal in NYC, and two exhibitions at The Crown Collection Gallery in both Denver and Los Angeles.

In 2020 Josh Mayhem signed on for artist representation and management exclusively at Avant Gallery. In 2021, Mayhem once again won the Custom of the Year award at the Designer Toy Awards. In 2021 Mayhem will be making his premiere at the Art Miami art fair, exhibiting with Avant Gallery, and concurrently he will have his feature exhibition, “Art Figures”, at Avant Gallery Miami.

Here, Josh shares his inspirations, experiences in the art world, and his current exhibition.

Blown Away Guy Custom Blown Away Guy Acrylic, metal & resin on resin 14″H x 14″W x 18″D

Tell us a little about your art education and background.

I’m Los Angeles-born and raised artist living in Oak Park California with my wife and two children. My art involves customizing primarily designer art toys and figures. Growing up I always had a fascination with art so naturally, I took whatever art classes were available in grade school, but beyond that, I’m a self-taught artist. My art is exclusively represented and managed by Avant Gallery, with locations in Brickell and Aventura in Florida, and Hudson Yards NYC.

How would you describe your aesthetic?

My lifelong habit of collecting toys inspired my passion for transforming them into works of art. My best-known pieces are those of my “Blown Away” collection, in which art figures essentially become canvases covered in strands of resin and layers of acrylic paint. The resulting gravity-defying drips give the impression of the work being deconstructed by a strong, colorfully psychedelic wind; transporting the viewer to a refreshing world of wonder and curiosity. I’ve been told there’s nothing quite like it in the art world, which I hold as one of the highest compliments I could receive.

As an artist, what motivates you to succeed?

What drives me to keep pursuing my passion is my wife Estee, daughter Layla, and my son Madden. Estee is literally my life manager who has always supported my creative pursuits and is always there to reassure me during seemingly tough times that everything’s going to work out just fine. As a parent, I think one of the most important things that I can teach my kids is that with the right attitude and mindset anyone can succeed at pursuing their passions. I can’t think of a better motivation to succeed than to continuously show them it’s possible leading by example.

Blown Away Bomb Hugger
Custom Bomb Hugger ft. Banksy
Acrylic, metal, resin, on resin figure
12″ x 12″ x 6″

Where do you see your art career 5 years from now?

I don’t necessarily use time frames when I set out to achieve my long-term goals. I definitely have a vision of what I’d like my career to be in the preferably sooner than later future. As far as the near future goes I’m currently accumulating works for my new solo exhibition “Art Figures”. The exhibit will be paying homage to iconic art-inspired collectible figures, and the artists behind the designs who, apart from being a big inspiration to me personally, are important figures themselves within the designer toy, contemporary art, and pop culture arenas. The opening will be held at Avant Gallery’s new bigger, art fair-inspired location in Brickell City Center during Art Basel Miami this year. In regards to the hopefully not-so-distant future, to be completely honest, I want my name to be amongst the greats. Disney, Warhol, Basquiat, Hirst, Koons, KAWS, Murakami, Arsham, etc. My thought is that if they can do it, why can’t I? If I plan on succeeding as an artist, why not go all the way? All it takes is intention, purpose, and a hefty dose of faith. I want the world to see my work. I want to make giant installations in museums. I think the most exciting thing about the Blown Away aesthetic is that with a big enough workspace I can apply it to pretty much anything, including my own original sculptures. That opens up a never-ending world of ideas and possibilities. I guess only time will tell if I’ve created something that’s original and appealing enough to reach that kind of level.

When did you discover your artistic talent, and what inspired you to pursue it?

I’ve always had a knack for art, and started drawing as a young child. In my early adolescent years, I was heavily interested in creating comic book art and storytelling. From my late teenage years on art was always a part of my life, and I’d create personal works for myself every now and again, but it wasn’t necessarily something I actively did all the time. Eventually when I discovered DJing that took precedence as my creative outlet for quite some time. It wasn’t until I was around 30 did my inspiration to create physical art come back, and it came back with a crazy vengeance. Around this time I discovered designer toys or art figures as I like to call them. I’ve always been, and am still an avid toy collector, and I’ve always had a love for the arts. Now all of sudden I found a world filled with these fascinating art-inspired “toys” possessing strong street art and Asian influences, along with pretty much any other artistic aesthetic you can imagine. It was the perfect storm. I became obsessed with the culture and collecting pretty quickly. Soon I discovered that there was an entire subculture of artists and collectors creating and buying one-of-a-kind custom art toys, with some of the artists doing it full time for a living. That’s when something clicked, and I finally decided what I wanted to be when I grew up. From there I actively set out to make a name for myself, working on creating as much work as I could part-time, often late into the night, while working various full-time sales jobs during the day. My work started to gain popularity, and after several years, and a few major changes to my artistic style, an opportunity came along that allowed me to take the leap and work as a full-time artist, and I haven’t looked back since.

What inspires your creations? Are there times you feel exceptionally more inspired than others?

I’m inspired by not just the process, but also the end result of my artwork. Not only for the sense of accomplishment but also simply because it’s just fun to look at. For me, something about following the flow of the drips is relaxing and soothing. I feel like people’s reaction to my art has inspired a sense of purpose. If my art is able to let people stop in wonder, and be relieved of their concerns even if it’s just for a brief moment, then what better inspiration is there? I’d say the times I feel the most inspired are when I’m working on a figure that I really love, especially if it articulates. Using the articulation to position the figure in a way that best compliments the “wind”, or the downward “rain”, is always a fun challenge. I particularly like it when the figure has an element of motion already incorporated into the sculpt.

Blown Away Mr DOB – Electric Rainbow
Custom Mr. DOB A ft. Takashi Murakami
Acrylic, metal & resin on vinyl
12″H x 12″W x 7″D

In your opinion should an artist continue to pursue their preferred / popular style, or are there benefits to exploring new creative avenues and ventures?

I believe artists should pursue whatever inspires them. If that means possibly going outside of their comfort zone, or trying something completely new altogether, an artist should follow their heart and not worry too much about how people might criticize it. I believe the universe uses inspiration and intuition to nudge us in the right direction, and you have to trust it. When I first started customizing I had an entirely different aesthetic than I do now. It was a Gundam / War-themed mash-up style that actually did gain some popularity on its own, respectively. While working on a private commission that was very outside of that comfort zone I was inspired to create a piece that ended up being the early concept of my current style. Once the concept evolved into the Blown Away aesthetic things really began to take off. So you never know where the path may lead if you’re brave enough to venture off the trail a bit.

Tell us more about what you’re currently working on for your upcoming “Art Figures” solo exhibition.

The breadth of the work is somewhat expansive as I have many different artistic inspirations that have influenced me over the years. First off I’m really excited to be unveiling my first original production sculpture that’s been in the works for a while now. Also thrilled to be introducing a brand new Daniel Arsham piece I’ve never previously done. Along with new painting techniques I’m incorporating into new Disney works, I’ll be venturing out into new styles of figures and statues. I’ll be exploring new subject matter that influenced me as a younger artist, like comic book art statues, and Gundam models as a homage to my earlier custom work. My all-time favorite IP is Star Wars, so you can be certain you’ll be seeing some fresh new work surrounding that theme as well. Some pieces will also feature designs created by artists perhaps considered fresh to the art figure world, but in my opinion, their work is bringing the craft to a whole new level. Familiar works will include brand new colorways and sizes of some of my more popular designs featuring KAWS, Jeff Koons, Takashi Murakami, and Hebru Brantley, respectively. On their own many of these figures and statues are highly collectible and sought after, and hold quite a significant after-market value, so these custom one-of-a-kind representations will be impressive additions to any art collection or decor.

The designer toy world is a seemingly endless arena of artists, designers, sculptors, and customizers. What about your work do you think helps you stand out amongst the rest?

I think having a style that’s aesthetically based has definitely helped me out in that regard. A lot of art toy designers and customizers have a character-based aesthetic, naturally. While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, in fact, I’m a big fan of many of them, it can sometimes limit the toy platforms that support and complement the character design. With the Blown Away aesthetic I’m in no way limited to what I can customize and repurpose. This has helped me put my signature style across all of the different subgenres and scenes within the designer toy scene internationally and has allowed me to venture far out of the designer toy world into exciting new territory which apparently doesn’t appear to have an end in sight.

Disintegrated Companion – Marbled Porcelain
Custom Flayed Companion ft. KAWS
Acrylic, metal & resin on vinyl
11 x 8 x 4

Should artists learn the business side of the contemporary art world? Please explain your thoughts as to why, or why not.

The business side of the art world is a multi-faceted complex that can be quite time-consuming for an artist to navigate, but I feel every artist that is serious about having a successful art career should definitely learn the business behind it. When I decided to pursue this path I did everything I could to learn all there was to learn about the art business. I interned and worked for any wage that was offered at art galleries specializing in art toys like Toy Art Gallery formerly on Melrose, held a sales position at Entertainment Earth (a collectible toy online retailer and wholesale distributor), and picked the brain of everyone I met that could offer advice to help bring my career to the next level. It’s also very important to find a good balance between running the business and being creative. I’ve seen artists become uninspired to continue their careers because they spent so much time focusing on the business, with barely any time to create. I’ve been fortunate enough to reach a stage of my art career that requires outside management and gallery representation, which allows me the luxury to focus almost entirely on the creative process. Sometimes it’s tough to release control of the business side, but it’s important to recognize that there is still a lot I need to learn about the contemporary art world. So personally I’m at the point in my career where I’d rather leave the business to more capable hands, and focus on the art.

If you were able to give yourself advice in your early art career, what messages would you convey?

Always focus on the end result of what you want your life to be. Everything that you worry about usually never happens. So stop worrying, and just know that everything is working out just fine, and in divine time. Most importantly, don’t let the criticism of one person drown out the praise of a thousand others. Having a pack of haters means you’re doing something right. Some people may hate on success, but never a failure.

What advice would you offer to an aspiring artist ready to reveal their work to the world?

Do whatever it takes to surround yourself with art and artists that inspire you, and ask a lot of questions. Learn. If you see an artist making moves that impress you, ask them for advice. They may not answer, but they also might. Create a website with a catalog of all your work, past and present, along with an artist bio and an artist CV. Never be too shy or lack the confidence to submit your work to art galleries that seem to be a good fit for your style. Some of the best opportunities I ever received simply came by way of asking for consideration. When asking for consideration, remember, no response is a response. Don’t take it personally, and move on. The right opportunity will come along as long as your intention remains true and authentic. Most importantly, never give up. Difficult challenges only become failures when you stop trying, and most of the time these challenges are the universe’s way of quickly, and paradoxically, getting you to where you’re actually supposed to be. The universe is always conspiring for you. Remember that.

WASTED – Purple Rain
Custom GONE ft. KAWS
Acrylic, metal, and resin on vinyl figure
14″ x 15″ x 8″