Artists that are able to put together writing, painting, photography and pieces of “junk” are those who inspire mixed-media artist, writer and educational toy developer Riley Wilkinson of Long Beach.
Wilkinson’s creative drive began at a very young age. “I was an artist as a child,” he said. “My mom was an artist, and she was a teacher. So, we always had Crayola markers, glitter and construction paper… She was a painter. She taught me how to paint when I was little. There was always something creative happening in the house.”
Wilkinson was born in Arizona. “My family shuttled my siblings and me back and forth across the country like nomads to California, Pennsylvania and then back to the desert,” he noted. “I learned at an early age that escape through play was the only means of survival, as childhood, for me, was a prison of abuse and torment.”
Wilkinson wrote about these childhood experiences in a short memoir he published on May 5 called, What Barbie Taught Me about Wearing a Plastic Smile. It is a recollection of how he managed to navigate the abuse inflicted on him and his siblings by his first stepfather. It is available to purchase for Kindle through amazon.com .
“I’m proud that my sister and I broke free in grade school and have since moved forward with our lives,” he noted. “It is survival that drives me.”
The idea of escape, memory, loss and imagination are evident in Wilkinson’s art. He is influenced by mixed-media artists such as Robert Rauschenberg and Barbara Kruger.
“Let’s Run Away,” a personal favorite piece of his, consists of a doll head on the left, a horizontal triangle of wallpaper on the right, and the word “perfect” written across the bottom of the work.
Underneath the triangle of wallpaper, Wilkinson wrote a message about two toys, a wooden HumptyDumpty and a wooden crow, which used to sit on his shelf when he was about 7 or 8 years old. “I wrote it under the triangle so that over time, I would forget what was written under there,” he said. “I was in a spa like 12 years ago. People who designed the building told me that there were wishes on the wall, and then they painted over it so that forever, in that building, the energy of those words would be trapped underneath the layers of paint. I like to think that covering what I write helps get the message out of my system and trap it. Native Americans really believe that objects have that power. It’s called Shamanism.” Wilkinson learned about Native American beliefs through his mother, who had an interest in them.
Toys have always been an important part of Wilkinson’s life. “Toys that children currently play with are also very inspiring because it is part of what I do for a living, and it works into my mixed-media art as well,” he said. “I think play and animation and art kind of tie in together.”
Today, he is the creator and designer of The Sneaky Snacky Squirrel Game, an award-winning game for preschoolers. When he was a kid, he was infatuated by these chipmunk finger puppets he had. “I became obsessed with this toy,” he said. “I went to Tokyo for a trip and saw these training chopsticks that they gave to teach toddlers how to eat, and I thought that skill could find its way into a game somehow.” This game is also available on amazon.com .
Wilkinson likes to work on more than one piece at a time. “Sometimes they’ll take a couple of months because I work on little bits at a time as the ideas come to me,” he explained.
One work that Wilkinson has recently been creating is actually a sister piece of “Lets Run Away.” It includes a tree trapped behind a large chain link.
Wilkinson also hopes to publish his second memoir, which is a continuation of the first. “I only wrote up to kindergarten [in the first memoir]. Now, I’m starting from kindergarten until the point where we were able to leave the situation [my sister and I] were in.”