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Those with creative talent love when their subject matter is something near and dear to their hearts. Writers, artists, filmmakers, and many others work better and create masterpieces when it involves anything that they can take a personal interest in. This is no different (and perhaps even more true) when that personal interest involves a hint of nostalgia. That’s why it’s always wonderful to find a talented individual who uses the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as his or her model for creation.
Robert Burden is an artist in California who uses toys from his childhood to paint beautiful giant canvases. He has been working with action figures for about eight years, and has sold several pieces to high-end collectors. His paintings sell for anywhere between $1,400 and $8,000. His work is excellent, and he has found success as an artist. But he wants to find the right collectors for more of his TMNT pieces.
Robert’s smaller TMNT works include paintings of Krang, Splinter, and Michelangelo action figures. The Krang piece is 30” x 30”, and excellently showcases the little pink blob with a hint of blue to pop the veins that are always pulsating through his body. The frame for the work includes four of the original action figures attached, and is bordered by 50 gold resin-casted Krangs.
The Splinter and Michelangelo pieces are even more unique, and are part of a profile series. Titled “Rat” and “Turtle,” both pieces stand 30” tall and feature the figure looking off into the bright blue distance. “Rat” is ornamented with a shadowbox containing a taxidermy rat, and “Turtle” includes a taxidermy turtle shell. Both pieces illustrate how the reality of the animal appears next to its pop culture counterpart.
Robert has also produced a Foot Soldier piece that actually looks more menacing than any of the actual Foot Soldiers ever have. This painting stands seven feet tall and includes three framed Foot toys at the top. Remaining true to the figure, the painting highlights the color differences between the toy as it was produced, and the character from the comic/cartoon that it was based on.
The biggest piece in Robert’s TMNT series, however, is a magnificent 10-foot, two-painting work that brings the best henchmen to life like never before. With Rocksteady on his shoulders, Bebop stands tall, and the two make quite the menacing pair. The paintings also include a Rocksteady and Bebop figure attached, with an additional rhino and warthog figurine to show just where the two came from.
We sat down with Robert to discuss his artwork, and what inspired him to use the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as his subjects.
Q: What made you decide to use action figures as your models for your work?
A: I think I sort of look at these action figures as relics. As an adult these are just cheap, hollow, mass-produced pieces of plastic. But I remember a time when they meant a great deal to me, they were almost like talismans. I wanted to try and recapture the way that I saw these things as a child, in all their majestic and monumental glory.
Q: Was there any particular reason you’ve chosen the TMNT action figures that you did as models instead of many of the others (or any of the other turtles themselves)?
A: The first TMNT piece that I made was a 6 ft tall painting of a Foot Soldier. Although I’ve painted a couple of smaller paintings of Michelangelo and Splinter … I’ve always had the mentality that I would save the best, most iconic figures for last.
Q: How do you come up with the frame designs (as well as what extra little relic to include) for each individual painting?
A: The patterns in the paintings are often taken from fabric, rug or wallpaper patterns from my childhood home, which is both kitschy and baroque. With all of the paintings I also try to incorporate a ‘reliquary’ element. … All of this is done to enhance a sense of religiosity in the work, the way a Saint’s body part would be encased in a church as a devotional device. It’s the tension between reverence and irreverence that I like. I’m still not sure which is more important to me.
Q: Out of all your TMNT works, do you have a favorite?
A: Even though it’s one of my oldest paintings from this body of work, I was pretty happy with the way the Foot Soldier piece turned out. I think the Krang painting is one of the funniest pieces I’ve made, just because it’s so gaudy and ridiculous. The Bebop and Rocksteady is the most monumental TMNT piece that I’ve done. It’s two canvases that conjoin together to stand over 10′ tall. I guess I don’t really have a favorite, but I do wish more people could see them in person.
Robert’s ultimate goal is to create a 14-foot giant that will include nearly every toy ever produced for the TMNT line. The beautiful colors, the unique designs, and the incorporation of the toys themselves speak to Robert’s creativity, and to the artistic magnitude that his massive project would have. But he needs the help of the fandom to make it happen.
To make this goal a reality, there must be more interest in the TMNT works that he has already produced. Collectors of art and of all things Ninja Turtle must have some of these pieces for their own. If you or someone you know would like to speak to Robert about purchasing any of the paintings you see here, please contact the artist through his website, here. If you admire the man’s work, and would like to see what else he has produced, you can also check out his Facebook page.