San Francisco-based artist Robert X. Burden paints large-scale, intricate representations of small, plastic figurines from his childhood. Some pieces also contain the actual toy or a taxidermied animal that relates to the work, in the same fashion that a Catholic reliquary displays the body part of a saint under their respective icon. These paintings feature ornate backgrounds that infuse the composition with an almost frenetic religiosity, and Burden acknowledges that his Catholic background may have affected his aesthetic adding, “but maybe an equally religious experience as a kid was going to the toy store.”

Says Robert: “In 2006 I began a series of large-scale oil paintings based upon the small action figures that I played with as a boy. I remember these figures as being magnificent. They represented power, beauty, good and evil, and they captured every aspect of my imagination. As a young adult, these toys are wonderfully nostalgic, but they’re no longer amazing to me. The patterns that adorn many of the canvases are often taken from fabric, rug or wallpaper patterns from my childhood home. The original toy is often framed in a shadowbox attached to the painting, acting as a modern reliquary for these figurines. The ineffability of what can turn a cheap yet coveted piece of plastic into an almost talismanic object was the original inspiration for this work. I am also motivated by the amorphous line that is drawn between imagination and reality, childhood wonder and adult practicality. There is an obvious irony in spending hundreds of hours to create a single painting that glorifies a cheap, mass-produced toy. And while that irony could reflect issues of commodity fetishism, consumer addiction, Peter Pan Syndrome or even shallow idolatry, I want these paintings to represent something positive in my life. Although it was sheltered and naive, there was a freedom in my childhood. It was free from the politics of race and sex and religion. It was free from the weight of history. It was free from rhetoric and paranoia, shame and regret, cynicism and despair. There is nothing profound about commenting on the minor tragedy of losing one’s innocence, or the struggle to maintain one’s idealism. I just want to renew my faded sense of awe.”