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Alex Otsabera, a.k.a. Patient # 6 is a toy designer. In his resume on LinkedIn, Sasha, as friends call him by name, signs up as an independent design professional, a detail that differentiate him from the designers that attended an academy of art . Worth making the distinction, although titles have little importan… Read More
Alex Otsabera, a.k.a. Patient # 6 is a toy designer. In his resume on LinkedIn, Sasha, as friends call him by name, signs up as an independent design professional, a detail that differentiate him from the designers that attended an academy of art . Worth making the distinction, although titles have little importance, more so, in the world of urban toys.

Compared to children’s toys, urban toys are items purchased especially by adult art collectors. They are made in a limited edition from 10 to a few hundred pieces and produced in vinyl, wood, or epoxy resin. Most of the toy designers come from a graphic design, merchandising, branding or product design background. Others, are coming directly from the streets as happened with Patient #6, who prior to making urban toys was a graffiti street artist or graffer, as is called in urban slang.

Alex Otsabera was born on the 6th of November, 1986 in a small town in Ukraine. His first artistic attempts were made in graffiti at the age of 15. After graduating the high school, Alex enrolled at The National University of the State Tax Service of Ukraine, an elite institution that trains specialists in finance, taxation and accounting. Here he met Olya, his future wife, and two years after their marriage, in 2007, they decided to launch a brand of plush toys called ” Solya and Asha “. Sasha was full of ideas and Olya was good at sewing and soon their work began to pay off. Their first savings were invested in art supply and marketing.

A “natural” par excellence, Sasha has learned the sculptural techniques related to toy making and in 2011 the website „Solya and Asha” sold more figurines than plush toys. In the same year Sasha dedicated himself exclusively to urban toys. This is in short the story of Alex Otsabera, a tax duty officer who punches his card between 9.00 AM and 5.00 PM to become after work, husband, father and Patient # 6.

A legitimate question for those who see for the first time the works of Alex Otsabera is whether Patient#6, the label under which are signed his toys, belongs to a fictional character or is inspired by real life? Here is what the artist has to say:

“One day, while I was walking and thinking, it was in 2010, I realized that what I do is wrong. I came home and painted a character who pluck his thoughts out of his head, as if they were real, organic things. Then, soon, I realized that that character is me, tormented by my own thoughts, harbored deep within me, since the day I was born on the 6th of November. Me, a patient… Patient # 6”.

Reading these thoughts it is impossible to escape the deeply intimate nature of Otsabera’s creations. Although a toy, his whimsical and bizarre character is more than that.

Urban toy design is considered by many a sub-cultural phenomenon but there are experts and critics who see in the trend a similar artistic manifestation as Pop Art. In the same spirit, Gary Baseman, a celebrated artist from Los Angeles with roots in Ukraine, where his parents came from to America, coined the phrase “pervasive art,” a conciliatory term meant to justify the value of an art produced commercially by an independent artist. An expression well suited to describe the today’s generation of artists. Pop Art did this in the 60’s and Andy Warhol must be credited for having broken the romantic bias patterns that envisioned the genuine artist as an artist of hunger.

Following Alex Otsabera’s evolution, this idea becomes more than obvious. By Patient # 6, he gives us not only a commercial object but also a subject of serious philosophical investigation. Through their immediate accessibility and mobility in the commercial world, his urban toys are a carrier of artistic and philosophical messages, a reflection of the social fabric in which were generated.

Molded in a glossy black resin, “Black Soul” – a collaborative effort done with Ruud van der Heijden, an artist from Haarlem, Netherlands, and the Fabslab Gallery from Singapore – is the piece de resistance of Otsabera. His character’s head, resembling an Aztec deity is surrounded by a halo on which it’s written in Old Slavonic “Bite the hand that feeds you. Attack the bleeding vein”. The text belongs to the song “Post Blue” from the album Meds of the British rock band, Placebo. Through its ​​honest and surprising combinations of meanings, “Black Soul”, and many of the artist’s drawings or paintings on canvas, expands the boundaries of urban toy design.

Otsabera sees himself as a campaigner against punitive psychiatry, against cruelty and social injustice. How comes that social and political messages find a home in the world of toys? Many toy designers are inspired by manga or anime. Alex Otsabera claims that his art was not japonised by these popular forms of visual culture from Japan, even tough, his style is formally affected by them. He loves music, art or movies but is mostly attracted by the thoughts that have pierced his brain, and by their direct reflections on existence, man, society and social change. In that realm, he becomes ironic, sarcastic, rebellious or simply angry, and if we look at what is happening today in the world, we don’t need a 20/20 vision to see that Otsabera is a “rebel with cause”.

I have to say this from the outset: some of Otsabera’s toys are not the sort of adorable figures as Mickey Mouse or Bugs Bunny. They are ravishing. By exploring the dark side of the human personality, the “shadow”, as Carl Jung called it, we try to suppress our dark thoughts because in many instances they are a reflection of losses and illusions. For the artist from Ukraine, the shadow is not only a shadow of personal experience, but, through its contingent collective value, a shadow of our society. To put it in the words of the American psychiatrist Oliver Sacks (The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, 1970, HarperCollins Publishers) – “internal and external difficulties fit each other“. Through “Black Soul”, “Ukrainian Riot Toy”, “The Psychiatrist”, “1987”, “MGH” (My Giraffe Head) and other works, Alex Otsabera is liberating himself and brings up an imagery from the depths of his consciousness.

According to Jeremy Brautman, curator and author of Toy Art 2.0 an anthology of interviews with over 50 of the best urban toy designers, Otsabera’s toys are “psychiatric art“:

“I think that these resins are incisive and unique. They talk about desolation and ownership issues faced by many artists (and other creative people) along their artistic journey. A writer outside the domain of art toys may call Patient # 6 “outsider art”. I call it “psychiatric art“

I read several times this statement before understanding that Brautman’s labeling has some very fine nuances. Psychiatric art, as done by patients in a psychiatric hospital or asylum, is a deeply private expression of a tormented mind and is used as a diagnostic tool. Patient#6 is a commercial public toy backed by such a highly crafted story that becomes credible to the point that you are tempted to believe that it was done by a mentally insane artist. To complicate the matters, Otsabera is very evazive or mysterious when asked to explain some of his toys. Asked by Brautman to elaborate on “I and MGH,” he responded that the human figure with the giraffe head is very difficult to explain, but contains “echoes of the past.” Without questioning the artistic value of Patient#6, Brautman, a long time supporter of Otsabera’s creations, involuntarily raises in his statement the issue of „authenticity of feeling” or, said in other words: „what do I feel that an artist feels about what I feel.” Responding to this question it’s like toying with the mind but I feel that, putting aside any emotion related to the reality surrounding him, about punitive psychiatry, cruelty or social injustice, Alex Otsabera is as normal as any other artist willing to make a buck and have some fun.

In „We are indie toys: make your own resin characters” (2014, HarperCollins Publishers) a book by Louis Bou Romero, Alex Otsabera delivers us a highly lucid and defining statement:

“I consider myself a very impulsive person. I have no patience and just do what I like. Creating my toys gives me the pleasure of doing something and making some money. I’m always thinking about the next toy I will create, when I’m eating, at work, or taking a nap—this is my daily battle. My only advice is that you must think of interesting stories for your characters, for the fans who buy and keep these little works of art at home.”

By psychologising or psychopathologising the narrative of his toys, Otsabera has the undeniable merit of forging a special niche in the world of urban toys. He is not singular in this regard and are worth noting the toy designers Billy Mac Donald from Dublin, Ireland, author of a series called “The Freudian Object” and Frank Kozik, un American illustrator and toy designer from San Francisco who became world famous with his concert posters for Pearl Jam, The Beastie Boys, Sex Pistols, Nirvana and other rock bands.

The Freudian Object Billy Mac Donald

“The Freudian Object”, copyright Billy Mac Donald

Compared to Otsabera, who seems inspired by his own demons, Billy Mac Donald is a humorous commentator of Freud’s theories about narcissism, the castration complex or the concept of strangeness, Das Unheimliche, as Freud called it, or “The Uncanny” which, in free translation, means strange, unusual or unfamiliar. With humor and cynicism, Frank Kozik, who created more than 500 urban toys, broke many divisive patterns of political or social taboos of our time. The contrast between all these artists resides in attitude and the risk of social response to their art if becomes political. They live in different worlds, is not the same if you live in Kiev, Dublin or New York, a factor appreciated by one of Kozik’s comments about Otsabera: “This is really cool and interesting, on every level.”
In times of economic crisis and globalization, our culture is forced to reinvent itself. The public, tired of the pompous and overly serious narratives has no longer the ability to focus on deep meanings and became a frugal consumer attracted by technogagetry, trivial, entertainment and games. In this context, the urban toys phenomenon offers to the fine arts an attention grabbing alternative with surprising results.

Alex Otsabera a.k.a. Patient # 6, sits in the front of an army of toys reminding us that, somewhere, beyond normal, deep in our soul, it is a little patient who loves to play. Sometimes, Patient # 6 looks strange and freaky, but let’s be cool, its just a toy. Read Less
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