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The Arts
05.07.08

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How Would Thomas Look?: The work of Cameron Tiede, Ryan Crippen and Scribe is on display at 'Derailed,' an exhibit of graffiti on toy trains.

Off The Wall

Graffiti meets designer toys in a new exhibit at Cardboard Spaceship in downtown Santa Cruz.

By Steve Hahn


Sitting in a studio applying a paintbrush to a small toy train may not bring about quite the rush that breaking into a rail yard with a backpack full of spray paint and bombing a full-size railcar will, but for Boston native Tom Shay the artistic expression is just as pure. Shay, who adorned his toy train with Buddhist imagery for this month's "Derailed" exhibit at Pacific Avenue toy shop Cardboard Spaceship, sees graffiti's emergence into the mainstream as a pathway to greater understanding between art enthusiasts and formerly underground artists.

"I've shifted from just spray-painting on buildings and subway walls to, you know, doing art," says Shay, who now lives in Santa Cruz. "Personally, I don't think it's any sort of selling out at all. We're still artists. Now we're really being seen and considered. People who wouldn't normally look closely at something on the street now start to understand the technical skills involved and how dynamic the pieces can be. This exhibit also gives us the opportunity to do a whole train, which has always been the benchmark in graffiti art."

The more than 50 toy trains on display at the "Derailed" exhibit aren't just examples of graffiti art. They're also a testament to the growing popularity of another unorthodox art form: designer toy customization. The artisan craft, which got its start in Japan and Hong Kong during the mid-'90s, uses uniquely 20th-century art forms, such as comic book illustration, anime and graffiti, to create one-of-a-kind toys.

"The toys are like accessible sculpture--cheap enough to buy but created by a professional artist," says Shay.

The blending of these two emerging art forms is something that fits perfectly into the guiding philosophy of Cardboard Spaceship, which opened about a year ago as what must be the first combination toy shop/art gallery in Santa Cruz history. If the packed house that greeted the opening of "Derailed" last Friday night is any indication, the young comic book geeks-turned-entrepreneurs who own the gallery are well on their way to becoming lasting downtown figures.

Another artist at the show, who goes by the name Emonic, believes the continued merging of different art forms with graffiti creates a priceless opportunity for those such as himself dabbling in many different illustration techniques.

"Graffiti happens to be one of the staples that grounds the artwork I do," says Emonic, who also does work in graphic novel illustration. "There is so much diversity in color and design within the art form that I consistently go back to it when doing design or illustration work."


DERAILED On display until May 31 at Cardboard Spaceship, 803 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz. (831.227.9270)


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