See the work of famous artists playing with toys

These artworks from Jason Freeny, Joe Simpson and others show how artists can have both fun and create serious pieces from toys.


Artists, photographers, fashion designers and sculptors such as Eduardo Paolozzi and Jason Freeny have used toys in their contemporary art and design as a way of developing technical craft or sharing deeper insights of our world. 

The Civic theatre and art gallery in South Yorkshire’s Barnsley is putting on The Toy Box: From Pop to Present - an exhibition exploring how these artists and a string of others manage to successfully incorporate toys into their current and past projects. It will also look at how toys have inspired designers and artists, and as a result, artists have created their own collectable toys known as "urban vinyl".

Image: Joe Simpson's LEGO Captain Red Beard is a limited edition print taken from his series of paintings of toys and figures, which also includes paintings of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Lion-O figurines.

Joe is a figurative painter who works primarily in oils to create realistic images. His paintings have been shown in galleries including The National Portrait Gallery and The Royal Albert Hall. 

Beginning with 1950s and 60s British Pop Art, the exhibition will also showcase photorealism, pop surrealism and conceptual sculpture from KAWS, Glennray Tutor, Jason Freeny, Jimmy Cauty, Ron English, Freya Jobbins, Sarah Graha and Joe Simpson.

Exhibition-goers can expect to see paintings, prints, fashion photography and sculptures on loan from Yorkshire Sculpture Park.

Image: Jason Freeny is part of Singapore based design studio Might Jaxx, which specialises in art collectibles. The studio produces thousands of limited edition collectibles designed in collaboration with artists worldwide.

Jason Freeny's famous anatomical toy sculptures can be seen in the basis for several mass produced toys. Jason mixes hard graphics with detailed anatomy and pop iconography.


The Curators and organisers of the exhibition describe it as a way to touch on feelings of childhood nostalgia and a way generate dialogue between generations.

The Toy Box: From Pop to Present will be exhibited for free at The Civic from July 29 to September 23.

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Wayne Chisnall’s Magnet artwork (seen here) also features in the exhibition. This trolley of plastic, wood and metal toys from the 1970s and 80s is from a series of four, which explores our attachments to material possessions.

Magnet was designed to represent the "tackier and more disposable" side to our relationship with material things, but as Wayne explains, ironically it’s the one viewers have stronger feelings of nostalgia to.


Paul McCarthy created these skateboard designs for The Skateroom, which sells boards featuring works from well-known artists to raise money for the charity Skateistan – such as Grayson Perry, whose skateboard is part of his very-well-received show currently at the Serpentine Gallery in London, The Most Popular Art Exhibition Ever.

Skateistan brings together children aged 5-17 in Afghanistan, Cambodia and South Africa through creating skateboarding-based youth groups – where they also learn skills such as leadership.  

McCarthy's designs – such as Doll, here – represent toys and other household objects as trash. 


This is Ken, obviously.

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Secrets of the Internal Combustion Engine is one of 101 prints that make up Eduardo Paolozzi's pop culture-themed series, Moonstrips Empire News. It's provided by The Eduardo Paolozzi Foundation.