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Show Me the Munny

Except for the throbbing death-metal music playing and a woman browsing a notebook of star designs to have needled onto her wrist, there's not much going on at Colorfast Tattoo in the Las Olas Riverfront on a recent Thursday night. That's fortunate, because it means hulking tattoo artist Jamie Ryscik has time to show off his latest creations.

Ryscik is about six feet tall and close to a deuce, and his forearms are covered with tattoos of Tibetan skulls and an oni, a Japanese demon. The tragus of his left ear is pierced. He sports a camouflage cap, chunky sideburns, and a handlebar mustache punctuated with a soul patch. Think of him as Andre the Giant's subversive, diminutive grandson. Ryscik doesn't really fit the image of someone who plays with dolls, but the 31-year-old turns to retrieve a plastic figure he's been painting for the past several weeks. His Sunrise home is overflowing with the things, called "art toys," and he often makes special trips to New York City to acquire them.

"I mostly do it for fun," he says quietly.

Ryscik slides open a wooden cabinet where he keeps the doll and gingerly lifts the body and then, separately, the limbs of what he's been calling "the fink nzts" (pronounced "nits"), a temporary name for what he says will eventually be a rendering of a surfer. He snaps the vinyl arms and legs into place, then the bulbous head, which flaunts one giant, acrylic eyeball and a wide, stupid grin from which a glistening, painted tongue has escaped. He places the fink on the counter next to another doll he's recently completed.

That would be "el Carron."

"He's sinister," Ryscik says of the black doll streaked with hot rod-style pink and blue pinstripes and flames. El Carron is named after a Spanish curse word that translates to something a little more offensive than asshole because "he does all the wrong things. He'll climb in your window and mess with your wife," Ryscik says. "He's definitely a troublemaker."

The fink and el Carron seem to eye each other on the counter. They're made from the same vinyl mold, with the same low-hanging ears, slight tummy bulge, and wide stance, but "they're not in the same universe," Ryscik says. "One cares about the water. The other just wants to find an enemy."

Still, these two Munny dolls — part of an exploding international art toy craze, also called "urban vinyl" — will stand side by side on February 3 through March 10 at the opening show of Amanda Magnetta's new boutique and gallery, Bear and Bird.

Magnetta and her husband, Tate Ottati, are erecting the gallery in the second-story loft of Tate's Comics, a unique and widely adored pop-culture, comic-book, video, and toy store in Lauderhill that Ottati opened in 1993. Magnetta expects more than 100 entries from local and faraway artists for South Florida's first Munny doll show, "For Love of Munny."

The Munny, a cherubic and vaguely simian art toy, stands seven inches tall, comes in white, black, and glow-in-the-dark vinyl, and has been around for a couple of years. It retails for $24.95. The name is a play on the name of another popular art toy, the Dunny doll, since Munnys look like monkeys. But really, Munny just sounds cool.

The appeal of the toy is that it's a blank slate that begs for an owner to customize it.

"There are no rules for the dolls," Magnetta says. "It's whatever you want to do, whether that means painting it, making clothes for it, or cutting it up into little pieces and putting them in a jar. Whatever."

Munny dolls have been showing up in stores like Urban Outfitters and Pink Ghost, a recently opened designer toy store in Las Olas Riverfront, and their cool factor may be peaking.

Ryscik sees this as an opportunity. He's helped recruit tattoo artists for the Munny show and has used his shop as a satellite, selling the dolls at a discount to customers and friends. But not all local artists care to promote the plastic. New Times is told that art toys are already past their underground prime in cities like New York and Los Angeles, where urban vinyl stores jumped on trends that started in Hong Kong and Japan. So while respected local artists of all kinds — tattooists, graffitists, fine artists, graphics designers, illustrators, commercial artists, and even a "dope artist" — are designing their own Munny dolls for Bear and Bird's opening, some privately renounce art toys as "mostly junk."

But if the early adopters in places like New York are already turning up their noses, it might only be an indicator that art toys are about to go mainstream. And designers tell us the Tate's show could be a sign that South Florida will become one of their premier markets.

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Ashley Harrell
Contact: Ashley Harrell

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