On any given day during the holiday season, you might find Cathy McClure wandering through the aisles of Toys R Us in New York City’s Times Square.
McClure, an artist whose life jumps between Seattle and New York, doesn’t have kids of her own to shop for. Instead, she’s looking for insight into the latest toys, seeking inspiration for her newest art piece.
“It’s research for me,” she said.
McClure’s toy-inspired art is featured in Seattle this month in her exhibit, “Revisionism.” The exhibit, on display at Method Gallery through Jan. 3, features an installation of robotic toy mice, plucked from the inside of old Mickey Mouse toys.
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The bots in the installation, titled “Mickey: Hardwired,” move in near-perfect unison before colliding with one another in quiet chaos.
It’s not the first time McClure has taken stuffed animals apart and created art from their inner mechanisms. Since 2003, she has turned her love for metalsmithing and art into robotic creatures she finds inside cuddly toys.
“I was really interested in what I felt that was underneath,” she said. “In some cases, I found just this beautiful design.”
For her projects, she often looks through thrift stores for plush, battery-operated toys. She then basically skins the stuffed animal, revealing the plastic robot figure inside, which she casts in sterling silver or bronze. After sanding and polishing what’s left, she has her completed artwork.
“It’s like uncovering an object that wasn’t intended to be seen in the first place, that has a beautiful design,” she said. “And I think I’m making it better.”
Paula Stokes, one of the co-founders of Method, said of McClure’s style, “There’s so many levels of it. And this particular installation is just so engaging. It’s intelligent work on so many levels, and just beautifully made.”
McClure got into metalsmithing — the medium through which she creates her art — as an undergraduate student at Texas Tech University. She said she became enamored with the surfaces of metal, and creating three-dimensional objects out of two-dimensional metals.
As a graduate student at the University of Washington, McClure found a way to combine her love for metalsmithing with her passion for art.
“I basically didn’t want to make teapots anymore,” she said. “I wanted to make things that move. The professors I met there gave me this limitless area to experiment.”
Her experimentation has given life to a cast of art characters she resurrected from the shelves of secondhand shops.
She said her main focus of her revamped toys is to call attention to American consumerism. By working with toys kids no longer want, she’s questioning the constant need for the newest popular item.
“It’s all about the next best thing,” she said. “No matter how many toys a child might have, you just need that new one. You need that better thing. I just see it as just sort of a glut of material.”
Murray Moss is co-director of the Moss Bureau, a New York firm that provides art and design consulting and curatorial services. McClure is a client.
Moss said he sees McClure’s work and the messages behind it as brilliant.
“She’s really smart,” he said. “She makes things herself. She has these crazy ideas which she laughs about if she’s describing it, and they’re not so crazy after all.”
When people view the exhibit, Stokes expects them to leave the battling Mickeys with an understanding of McClure’s broader message.
“When you see this installation, it’ll challenge you, it’ll engage you,” Stokes said. “You’ll walk away from it and it’ll challenge your notion as what you perceive as a common object in pop culture.”