Meet Ben, the 'mushroom' to melt your hearts at toy artist's debut show


An artwork from oodplex titled 'Crying For Help', which captures the artist's pandemic state of mind. It is part of his 'Bleak' exbition at Zhan Art Space in Petaling Jaya. Photo: Zhan Art Space

EMERGING artist and toy designer Lee Ren Chang, better known as oodplex, knows art gallery visitors will go home smiling and hopeful despite the world of loneliness and isolation unleashed in his debut exhibition Bleak.

Oodplex, 27, has also chosen the unlikeliest character to be the star of his show – a mushroom called Ben. A few versions of Ben stand out proudly at the Bleak exhibition, now showing at Zhan Art Space in Petaling Jaya.

“We see mushrooms popping up in forests, below a dead tree trunk, on old tissue papers, all in the means of survival, and that essentially was how I wanted (Ben) to be.

“The character was my way of coping with society and how I wanted to express my feelings,” says oodplex.

The exhibition, which ends on June 12, is his first major show and it features 67 works ranging from sculptures, animation, figurines, photography and artworks ... with Ben as the titular character.

At the gallery, visitors will get to meet two versions of Ben – "Melting Ben" and "Split Ben".

Oodplex’s 'Melting Ben' JXB Edition (resin, 2022). Photo: Zhan Art Space Oodplex’s 'Melting Ben' JXB Edition (resin, 2022). Photo: Zhan Art Space

Both are sculpted in various shapes and sizes. The artist created Melting Ben in 2020, while the largest sculpture in Bleak is a Split Ben sculpture that stands at 150cm tall and weighs 30kg.

Last weekend, Zhan Art Space welcomed comic book artist/toy designer Michael Chuah and toy artist Vomit Thunder over to customise Melting Ben figurines alongside oodplex. Each of the artists had their own interpretation. Chuah designed "cutiepop", with a pop of colour and contrast, while Vomit Thunder came up with Death Ben and Neko, with epoxy application and carving technique.

Oodplex created a Random Ben, with a spontaneous burst of colour.

“The exhibition is about self-expression and a recollection of old memories and feelings that were once felt during my student days back in Britain and the (various) lockdowns in Malaysia.

'When designing a (toy) character, you can have different personalities (for the character) and this can be reflected in multiple mediums,' says oodplex. Photo: Zhan Art Space'When designing a (toy) character, you can have different personalities (for the character) and this can be reflected in multiple mediums,' says oodplex. Photo: Zhan Art Space

“Both events had many similarities, whereby I felt a great sense of loneliness and isolation. This triggered some rather depressing thoughts and feelings which led to the development of Ben and this exhibition,” says oodplex, who graduated with an illustration degree from the University of the West of England.

The resourceful artist, who’s also part of local toy art community MyToyHoard, is quick to point out that Bleak is not as bleak as people might think.

He mentions that the exhibition offers a positive outlook as the public steps away from “pandemic fatigue”. That explains also the “pops of colour” in oodplex’s otherwise monochromatic artworks.

“What this means is that loneliness and isolation are temporary ... we can overcome these negative elements and look forward to better and hopeful days ahead,” he says.

The artist shares that the reason he enjoys toy design is because of its multi-dimensional creative range.

“When designing a character, you can have different personalities (for the character) and this can be reflected in multiple mediums,” he adds.

An Instagram image of Oodplex's 'Split Ben' (polyactic acid, emulsion, 2022) artwork which stands at 150cm and weighs 30kg. Photo: oodplex An Instagram image of Oodplex's 'Split Ben' (polyactic acid, emulsion, 2022) artwork which stands at 150cm and weighs 30kg. Photo: oodplex

In 2016, oodplex got into toy designing and some of his previous works were shown at exhibitions such as Titikmerah collective’s My Toys 2.0 Exposure (2020), and Custom Raiki Show (2018) at Glitch Gallery Bristol in Britain.

At 2017’s anime convention AniManGaki in Kuala Lumpur, he first showed his deer-like creature designer toy named “Raiki”.

He has also participated in toy art exhibitions abroad, including China, United States, and Britain.

“The role of toys in the contemporary art market is to be disruptive ... and to provide a sense of nostalgia. We grew up playing with toys, drawing/pasting characters we love, but it all seemed to end abruptly (through adulthood).

“I believe that toys can be seen in a more sophisticated light, as they are also emotive, and able to express the feelings of an artist, telling a story like a painting which is very much similar to what we see in the contemporary art market.”

Right now, oodplex says his focus is on Ben, adapting and making changes to the mushroom character.

“I would like to further explore the character of Split Ben, focusing on building a story for the character and how I can repurpose the characters into different shapes, forms and sizes.

“I believe that the character resonates with many in the sense that we all have multiple/split characters when we encounter different situations,” concludes oodplex.

Bleak is on at Zhan Art Space, The School, Jaya One, Petaling Jaya until June 12.

More details here.

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Oodplex , Toy art , designer , exhibition , Zhan Art Space

   

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