Artist tells stories through broken toys

Jason Godeke of Bloomsburg, Penn., talks about the process he goes through when creating a painting with Nicole Jeffries, 19, sophomore of Wheatland, Wyo., during the Art Reception Monday in Memorial Hall. — Photo by Ashley Swanson

Jason Godeke of Bloomsburg, Penn., talks about the process he goes through when creating a painting with Nicole Jeffries, 19, sophomore of Wheatland, Wyo., during the Art Reception Monday in Memorial Hall. — Photo by Ashley Swanson

A little boy, his hair menacingly cropped, chops apart two toys and reassembles their ill-fitted parts into distorted creatures. This is a scene from Pixar’s animated film Toy Story, and the very image evoked by walking into Jason Godeke’s “Totems and Monsters,” an exhibit showing on the upstairs gallery of Memorial Hall until Sept. 26. Godeke’s paintings feature strange, piecemeal humanoids, incredibly reminiscent of that little boy’s hybrid playthings. However, instead of serving the horror-film creepy factor – like they do in Pixar – Godeke’s surreal toys are more thought-provoking than haunting.

One painting, “Seeing the End,” features a willowy Barbie doll, her arms replaced with two hulking appendages. Instead of merely a shock factor, the subject suggests some argument between femininity and strength, a topic pertinent today. Beside it, another piece shows a baby doll whose normal limbs had been superimposed with flimsy female extensions. The woman from the previous painting stands next to the baby, telling a strange story of identity and ability.

“I like to tell stories with paintings,” Godeke said during the show’s opening on Tuesday.

Unlike Toy Story, whose antagonist pieced together toy parts like a mad surgeon, Godeke’s stories imply curious, self-reflective ideas. “Auditions for Eve” exhibits a row of vaguely female figures (all similarly slapped together from toy parts) lined up for scrutiny. This created the question: are we just compilations of our childhood influences, figuratively bits and pieces of our favorite toys? Although up for interpretation, all Godeke’s pieces are full of seeding questions and similarly stimulating images.

Like the title of Pixar’s film, Godeke’s pieces are freeze-frame toy stories with a reoccurring cast. “Two Faces as the Witch” displays life-like, prismatic fruits, guarded by a Grimm-worthy female figure. In another piece, the same figure is half eaten by what Godeke referred to as a “big, dragon-head thing.”

When asked about his works’ similarities to Pixar’s film, Godeke said “it’s not that I don’t deny the mass media influence, it’s irrefutable.” But then Godeke explained that Toy Story’s sadistic sawbones was actually based on “a long history of violent, horrific stories and paintings.” Godeke’s contribution to this narrative might not be as unorthodox as it appears to 21st-century eye.

But no matter the timeline of Godeke’s genre, his intriguing works prove that like in film and childhood, the best stories are told by toys.

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