While many artists are making strides in CGI and beyond, Eleanor Macnair has traded software for soft materials. Armed with tubs of Play-Doh, a scalpel and an empty wine bottle in place of a rolling pin, Macnair reimagines portraits as colourful 3D creations.
Her new photo show, Surrealists Rendered in Play-Doh, focuses on remodelled self-portraits of André Breton, Salvador Dalí, Suzanne Muzard, Paul Éluard, Louis Aragon, Yves Tanguy, Jacques-André Boiffard and Marie-Berthe Aurenche. The exhibition is running as part of a Surrealism season at Elephant West in London, and will be topped with large-scale Play-Doh eyes covering the exhibition space as a tribute to the seminal artistic movement.
Macnair’s craft was born out of a pub quiz round that challenged quiz-goers to reproduce a famous portrait using Play-Doh. She has since put her own spin on this by paying homage to lesser-known photographs, in this case a series of automatic portraits taken by early Surrealists in the first photobooth, or photomaton, in 1920s Paris.
“Elephant West approached me about their Surrealism season and I’d always had in mind that I’d like to recreate some of these photomaton portraits of the Surrealists from Paris in the late 1920s,” Macnair explains. “These early photobooth portraits of the big names in Surrealism just messing around with the medium had always intrigued me, and the theme of the season gave me the perfect excuse to recreate them.”
Given the original photographs were monochrome, Macnair chose her vibrant palette based on what colours would sit nicely alongside each other in the show, while imagining which colours might have had appeared in real life – and of course what colourways were available on the Play-Doh aisle.
“The thing with Play-Doh is that it does crack and dry quite quickly so I can’t work on models for an extended period of time,” says Macnair, who spent around four hours on modelling each figure for the show before they were photographed and deconstructed again.
“It’s also a surprisingly soft and delicate medium to work with, so if you work too much on a model, it tends to spoil with finger prints and incidental marks,” she adds. “The time constraints and the difficulty of working with Play-Doh means that they are only ever sketches and full of imperfections – but I kind of like that.”
Surrealists Rendered in Play-Doh is on display at Elephant West in London from November 22-January 5; elephantwest.art