PUBLISHED: 00:16 18 December 2011 | UPDATED: 20:27 20 February 2013
The Romanian philosopher Emile Cioran once said that 'Man is a robot with defects'. Judging by the breathtaking collection of vintage toy robots amassed by Newick-based illustrator Chris McEwan...
CHRIS McEwans collection of robots, dating from the early 1950s, encompasses everything from early Japanese tinplate toys to iconic stars of stage and screen such as Robby, who made his debut in the 1956 science fiction film Forbidden Planet; K-9, Doctor Whos loyal robotic pooch; and that fussy protocol droid C-3PO from Star Wars.
And now we can enjoy them first hand because he has loaned more than 200 robots and space toys, as well as artwork inspired by his collection, to Hove Museum and Art Gallery for an exhibition called Robot Invasion.
Chriss fascination with robots dates back to his days at the Royal College of Art in the early Seventies. One of the perks of being a student at this prestigious institution was being granted free and unlimited access to the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. And it was while roaming its galleries that he first encountered Eduardo Paolozzis prints exploring the human machine, as well as Jacob Epsteins haunting Vorticist sculpture The Rock Drill, depicting a threatening robotic being that expressed both the exhilaration of the modern world and its potential for devastation.
Gradually, Chris began amassing his own robot collection, largely attracted by their sculptural appeal. Ive always been drawn to the graphic quality of robots and the decorative details of their surface designs have often acted as a starting point for my own abstract images, he says.
Robots are also highly original and exude great personality. When you saw Robby on screen, he couldnt walk, could barely talk and destroyed the furniture if he moved, but he charmed the pants off you and still does. And its the same when people view this exhibition. They think they know their robots, having relegated them to the status of childrens toys. But viewing this collection, theyre overcome by a child-like sense of wonder.
The word robot or roboti, meaning labour or work, was coined by the Czech playwright Karel Capek in 1921. But our fascination with automata dates back to Ancient China, Greece and Egypt when pioneering engineers and inventors attempted to build self-operating machines, some resembling humans and animals.
In the 1950s, the rediscovery of Leonardo da Vincis 1495 notebooks revealed that he had also created detailed drawings of a mechanical knight, now dubbed Leonardos robot, which was able to sit up, wave its arms and move its head.
But toy robots first caught on after the Second World War when Japanese manufacturers, keen to flex their muscles after the ravages of wartime, began producing and exporting them in vast numbers, capitalising on the growing interest in science fiction fuelled by popular American series such as Flash Gordon.
Harnessing battery technology, Japanese toy robots had a distinct edge over their western counterparts, with moving joints, flashing lights and gunfire. Now vintage tinplate robots fetch high prices at auction and eBay even has a specialist section for them.
Nevertheless, Chris isnt remotely precious about his own collection, cheerfully admitting that true collectors keep their robots carefully boxed. None cost vast sums and most were salvaged from junk shops or donated by friends, relatives or former students who Ive taught at Brighton Art College (now the University of Brighton), he says.
But not any old robot is allowed into my home. It has to have visual appeal. And this exhibition, grouped and selected aesthetically, reflects that. The point is to cover the fun, randomness and fascination of robots.
- Robot Invasion runs at Hove Museum and Art Gallery until February 21. Visit www.brighton-hove-rpml.org.uk for further information.
- You can view Chris McEwans artwork and purchase his prints at the Hove Museum shop or via www.lawsonmcewan.com