Part art gallery, part toy shop, what makes more sense than the matrimony of both worlds to form the beloved Parisian space known as Artoyz. Not just a shop, nor a gallery, Artoyz is a full brand in its self, producing and releasing vinyl goodies featuring artists like SuperDeux, Bunka, New Era collabs, and a lot more. Yann-Claude Phillipot took some time away from his morning croissant to give Format a virtual tour of their vinyl universe.
“The gallery is our playground. We donâ€™t work the same way as dedicated galleries. We barely make money off shows, what we want is to welcome artists we love the most, and help them increase their fame in France.”
Format: What was the original concept for Artoyz?
Artoyz: Our first goal was to introduce a new graphical culture that totally blow our minds in the first place. We wanted to share the concept, culture and philosophy around the Urban Vinyl movement that grown in Hong Kong at the end of the nineties. Designer Toy was the perfect thing for us, we were huge collectors of graphic books, music, comic books, clothes, sneakers, toys also of course, and when we discovered the new uses of this medium we fell for it immediately. We couldnâ€™t be the only ones in this country to fall for those eye candiesâ€¦time told us that we made the right choice! Michael, general manager of Artoyz, wanted to quit its previous job in the music industry to build something new and wanted to work on something he liked. I was able to quit mine, also in the music industry, a few months after to work exclusively on Artoyz.
Quickly after launching our website that consists in a shop plus a magazine, we became wholesalers and then curators; we opened a shop+gallery, then a second one, then we became producers of toys and clothes. From day one our dream was to produce our own figures, and it was like an outcome when we received the very first sample from the factory. Thatâ€™s maybe the best job in the world (IMO taking care of an island lost in the Pacific Ocean is not quite as fun as our job).
Format: What sort of experience do you want your customers to have when they come to the store?
Artoyz: We want them to open wide their eyes, and to be ready to forget all they ever saw in other toy shops. We want to see smiles on these faces ! What we love the most is to see so many different people, from 10 years old kid that are new to the thing but really into it, and elders or art collectors that find an appeal in our products and rely to something else they might be collecting or loving. Young is older and older is younger when they enter Artoyz.
Format: When did you realize that there was a niche for a designer toy store in France ?
Artoyz: It was a pure brainless risk as you may imagine, in 2003 there was only a couple of artists and companies, HK Vinyl was slowly going down and we had no idea if we were going to find an audience, but we were so involved and really motivated by the project and the amazing possibilities that could follow that we put all our efforts together in order to showcase these products and talk about them.
We had very good feedback pretty quickly, we were astounded when we realized that the very first order on artoyz.com arrived less than 10 minutes after the opening of the siteâ€¦and furthermore it wasnâ€™t a friend of ours ! And there even was a queue when we opened the flagship in Paris in 2005.
Format: How does the French public receive designer vinyl? Has it reached a level of general public interest?
Artoyz: The answer was really positive and motivating, little by little a strong French community has grown, very supportive and also very different from what we saw on other sites and other countries. We thought that the French taste is also slightly different and we noticed a really strong support for creations released by frenchies such as Rolito, Mist or Superdeux for example. As of today, we have made way better than other countries that somehow dropped the thing on the way or werenâ€™t enough into it, and we have reached a pretty decent level of popularity, which I think is also growing more and more everyday.
Format: France has such a rich artistic history, do you find that it is reflected in the artists and graphic designers that you work with?
Artoyz: Many French artists attended art schools, and even if regular public schools or universities are amazingly bad in our country, art schools are very efficient. So I would say that French graphic designers are overall very talented, whatever the style or the medium they work on. Most of the French artists that work in the toy industry or make toys have many skills and are definitely not limited on one medium; toy is only a part of their work and one of the many canvasses they work on to spread their art.
Format: Do you find that French designers have a different approach than Asian or American?
Artoyz: Definitely, we canâ€™t avoid the fact they have been influenced and that everything from around the world but I think there is a French touch for everything. Toy included.
Format: Artoyz is a gallery as well. What sort of works do you like to see in your gallery?
Artoyz: Our first aim as a gallery was to showcase artists and newcomers that used the toy as a canvas. And furthermore, we wanted to put under the light French artists. So at first it was only toy oriented, then we opened to graffiti artists, illustrators but we want to keep a graphical link with the artists we welcome in our humble space. The gallery is also our playground, and we donâ€™t work the same way as dedicated galleries. We barely make money off shows, what we want is to welcome artists we love the most, and help them increase their fame in France. Thatâ€™s why we have worked with overseas artists such as Bwana Spoons, Dehara Yukinori, Jon Burgerman, Tim Tsui for example. We have slowed down exhibitions for the first semester, but the space is gonna live with many great shows upcoming, with foreign artists and well as French talents. And the current Steph Cop show is really amazing you should check it out.
Did I mention that weâ€™d dream to see a Michael Lau exhibition in our gallery ? Oh yeah now I did itâ€¦
Format: You are currently showing works by Steph Kop at your gallery. How did that come together?
Artoyz: Steph Cop is a very talented fashion designer and also one of the earliest French toy designer we have met. He released the Imaginary Friends in resin almost ten years ago. He was at the time responsible of the style for one of our beloved streetwear brand (Homecore and then Graphik D-zign) and his work was very different with an aesthetic that we havenâ€™t seen before. We made the connection with Steph (also a old school graffiti legend) and when we asked him if he could work with us for the clothing line we had in mind (ATZ) we were thrilled. When he talked about his new concept of Wooden Aro and the creation of several wooden toys created with a 25kg chainsaw, we were very enthusiastic, and we of course gave him the keys to the gallery.
Format: Have you had any of your own releases or are there artists that you represent?
Artoyz: As I say previously, making toys was our first dream, our child dream as adults. We arenâ€™t artists by ourselves but we had ideas on who to work with and what may please us and the audience. Then we created Artoyz Originals in 2008, our dedicated toy label. Our first releases were with relatively unknown artists such as Bunka (Chaos Monkey) and Easy Hey (Kid Onion), who released their very fist vinyl toys and had strong feedback from collectors all around the world. We developed also the concept of Elements, an ongoing series of platform toys impersonating Air, Water, Earth and Fire into small collectible toys. Our first series ELEMENTS ALPHA SERIES is out now in the USA by the way. And we have many projects for the second half of 2009, including AUTO by Superdeux which will be revealed at the SDCC this year, and also the first toys by Alexone, Koralie, 123KLAN, and more to come. We work close with artists but they are free to work with whoever they want, if we have good opportunities we submit to those we are close to.
Format: What is the coolest thing in vinyl that you have seen all year?
Artoyz: Last year was overall a shitty year (besides the fact that we released our own productions which we are very very proud of â€“ Chaos Monkey by Bunka and Kid Onion by Easy Hey, and our Elements but they are made of ABS plastic). There are a few things that have been noticed: The Kaws Effect, with people ONLY focusing on the many releases of the talented New Yorker, either to collect or to flip for profit.
The Kaiju rise, with the best productions in soft-vinyl that pushed one step further with more and more collectors, but thatâ€™s also very indieâ€¦hard to follow, itâ€™s a game inside the game, with fewer players (that told us they were hardcore). And then the rise of anything, with many many, MANY companies created thinking they might be rich in no time and releasing shitty toys. You just canâ€™t release anything. What used to be a game has become an industry, we are aware of that, but it would be cool if the crisis could expurgate the useless. Anyway, whatever the releases we are always excited to open new boxes and discover new creations, we are just a lilâ€™ bit more critical than when we started, thatâ€™s quite normal.
Mindstyle has been doing a pretty good job these last few months, all their releases are fâ€™in great with very efficient QC. 3A Toys is also amazing and all their toys with Ashley Wood gives back the word art into Art Toy. In fact the coolest thing in vinyl may beâ€¦the resin ! Many artists have rised using this material for new perspectives and amazing creations. Keep an eye on the Portland scene. Also canâ€™t wait to see what will be unveiled during SDCC, and of course our forthcoming releases that we hope youâ€™ll like !
Format: What have you not seen that you think should have already happened?
Artoyz: I keep secretly wishing that the Jeff Soto Walker might come out sometime. It should have been released years ago, but we are still a few to be convinced that it will rise from the dead some day.
Iâ€™d like to see more collaborations and crossovers between artists.
Itâ€™s also fun to notice that only a few toys have a function yet besides decoration. Will somebody jump the shark one day?