You might not realize that you’re familiar with the work of artist Frank Kozik, but if you’re aware of pop culture in even the most cursory way, you’ve probably come across his stuff. Whether it’s an angry-eyed rabbit or hamburger smoking a cigarette, or a gig poster exhibiting an almost-familiar cartoon character doing something lascivious, you’ve seen a Kozik in action: subverting pop culture through hyperbole or playful disrespect. His work is simple, often obvious, but always influential and important, as a prominent artist in both the Pop Surrealist and Stuckism genres. And if you want to get horrifyingly complex, Stuckism is partially defined as “art with spiritual value regardless of style, subject matter or medium; anti-anti-art.”
Now that I have four and a half years worth of fine arts education out of the way, none of that is important. What’s important is that Mr. Kozik makes some really great busts, embracing the finer points of both pop culture and history, often slamming them together at high velocities and selling the resulting portraits at incredibly high prices. And what self-respecting art snob wouldn’t want a Beethoven-by-way-of-Clockwork-Orange bust on their mantelpiece? Or a Chairman Mao with Mickey Mouse ears? Che Guevara as a skeleton? These combinations of geniuses and monsters with their bizarre spiritual opposites (or strange, unexpected twins) are all very cool, and until now, inaccessible to the average collector. Now, us art snobs welcome Kozik and Kidrobot‘s Goon Squad mini-busts with open arms.
Measuring about 4 inches tall and molded from vinyl, the Goon Squad line consist of five busts, each one a kind of lowbrow-classy take on a world leader known for their destructive or murderous tendencies. Each box is clearly marked with the man you’ll find inside (because who wants an Ayatollah when you can score a Reagan?), but each man also comes in five different colors. Therein lies the blind-box surprise. Will you get yellow, white, pink, blue or black?
Kidrobot was kind enough to send along one of each of these fine gentlemen for us to explore, and we’re psyched. Each mini-bust is a substantial piece cast in crayon-bright colors, and finely detailed, capturing each leader with an unquestionable likeness… plus a little extra.
My personal favorite is Reagan, aka The Gipper. Not only do I have a thing for the iconography of US presidents, but “The Gipper” is a relic of the awesome ’80s. Obviously, Reagan’s conservative politics were diametrically opposed to the anarchy button he sports, and the safety pin, punk earring… but mostly, I love the DEVO-esque shades. This guy, plus my NECA DEVO action figure set equals the perfect beginning to a shrine to the weird and wonderful 1980s. Oh, and maybe a Conky 2000 from Pee-Wee’s Playhouse.
Of course, we also have Kim Jong-il by way of gangster Elvis (whom Kim fervently collected and with whom he was “obsessed”). The cultural context here is actually kind of hilariously incredible. Also, check out this scale comparison shot: bigger than a Kidrobot Bender, but a little shorter than a monkey.
…and Fidel Castro, in good ol’ American redneck gear.
Lenin was not known for his jovial disposition. Nor was the Ayatollah (below) known for his love of dance music, in what is perhaps the least kind and most caricature-like portrait of the line.
It’s possible that Kidrobot also sneaked a few secrets into these blind boxes, lest all of the surprise be mitigated by the boxes’ clear labeling. Check out this shot, spotted on eBay, of a custom painted piece which was apparently pulled from a box. No word on if this kind of thing is common (or in fact a legitimate pull, based on the auction text), but it’s always nice to run into a surprise or two.
This is a great place where history, art and toys all combine into one excellent set of display pieces, thanks to the always forward-thinking Kidrobot, who have always been the most influential urban vinyl / designer toy company in the business. If you have any interest in just how strange and fun history can be, these are the guys for you… and probably the best $10 figure you can find right now.