Amazing sculptures from recycled toys by designer Ryan McElhinney
Thirty five-year-old Ryan McElhinney’s career began as a seven-year-old cartoonist drawing ‘Love is…’ characters for customers at his father’s County Kildare pub. Today, the Irish designer’s portfolio displays the same mix of humour and creativity that lead him from Dublin’s European College of Animation to award-winning product and interior design, via stints at Disney and 20th Century Fox.
Working as an animator at the Arizona-based Fox, a chance reading of the first issue of Wallpaper magazine set him on a different path. “Contemporary design was like a breath of fresh air”, explains McElhinney, whose workstation was soon surrounded by style magazines and sketches of cartoon-like sofas and chairs. A career as a product designer blossomed, along with a love of local thrift and house clearance stores. Trawling for materials quickly became an obsession, with Mc Elhinney’s limited budget, natural eye and vivid imagination ensuring he spotted the perfect finds to bring to life his early designs. Full of expression and movement, dollar-a-bag sacks of second-hand plastic toys became the designer’s chosen medium. Telling a story with each manipulation, Mc Elhinney meticulously gloss-painted and fused together each figure in a six week process, creating the first in his series of ‘Toy’ frames and lamp bases.
Returning to England briefly in 1998, the 25-year-old enjoyed his first taste of interior design with a commission from his publican father. The result: The Room on Waterloo Road, a relaxed, eclectic gastro pub which along with his Toy Lamps he entered into the Arizona Designer of the Year Awards, becoming the most nominated and awarded entrant. Still pondering his future, a visit to the newly opened Tate Modern proved a catalyst. “I just loved everything I saw. Walking out, the building’s inspirational simplicity struck me so hard, I knew London was for me.” With the business in his blood, Mc Elhinney bought a down-at-heel Waterloo boozer, working his magic on the interior and investing profits into his new London studio.
Endlessly inventive, designs range from the Knot sofa, winner of the Peugeot Design Awards and finalist in both the BIDA and FX awards, to the Swarowski crystal-encrusted ‘groom and groom’ figures rumored to have topped Elton and David’s wedding cake. Today, recycling is more current than ever and remains at the heart of McElhinney’s work. Fusing old and new, he transforms found objects to continuously surprising effect. A world away from the dated image of how recycled should look, his sexy, urban projects and hand-made one-of-a-kind sculptures have enjoyed the attention of design aficionados from Philippe Starck to Kanye West, who recently enthused about the designer’s subversively glamorous gold-painted Toy Lamps.
Commissions include a nine-foot-tall Toy Tree for The Gallery at Sketch, residential projects for Noel Gallagher and Carrie Fisher and the interiors of four bars co-owned with his brother. Mc Elhinney’s work is available from London’s Mint and Liberty and Hong Kong’s Lane Crawford. He is currently working on a ‘Toy Boy’ series of young male figures, whose poignant expressions and poses tell the tale of the knife and gun crime which has become a part of everyday life.