8 Artists Transforming Abandoned Dolls Into Surreal Art

Plastic part used to make toy dolls all jumbled together
credit: Flicr/julesjulesjules m

There's no denying it, dolls can have a creepy side. There's the whole "lifeless baby that looks way too real" part, and then there's the "it will surely come to life in the middle of the night and wreak evil" part. Which is why dolls have such wonderful potential in surrealist art — they tease that perfect balance between desire and revulsion. But they can also play a stellar role in sustainable art, since there are legions of dolls retired from the whims of their child mommies and headed for the landfill. The artists whose work is shown in this list have all given new life to old limbs, keeping them out of the trash, and alive in our sometimes-nightmarish-sometimes-innocent dreams.

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Hans Bellmer

credit: Hans Bellmer/YouTube

The granddaddy of doll parts art, German-born surrealist Hans Bellmer (1902--1975) used old mannequin segments to create his dolls whose provocative eroticism struck a blow against the tyranny and authority that was unfolding in Germany during the 1930s. Few of his successors have achieved such haunting effects.

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Freya Jobbins

credit: Laura Moore and Mark Pokody

Australian artist Freya Jobbins recycles Barbie, her date Ken, and any number of other molded babies and employs them as the medium for her sculpture. "My work explores the relationship between consumerist fetishism and the emerging recycling culture within the visual arts," says Jobbins.

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Queen of Spades

Old doll in dramatic lighting

credit: Flickr/happymrlocust

Flickr photographer happymrlocust displays old plastic doll parts combined with wire, clay, and beads that were created for a series he produced which was inspired by a deck of cards.

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Erika Warren

credit: Erika Warren

Artist and vintage tidbit collector, Erika Warren repurposes her trinkets and treasures into new creations, often incorporating bits and pieces of dolls into the mix, as in her curious pedestals like this one, which houses a tillandsia air plant.

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Erika Warren

credit: Erika Warren

Another way in which Erika Warren puts old dolls to work is in jewelry, where lilliputian limbs and little heads do their duty in adornment.

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John Beinart

credit: Jon Beinart

Jon Beinart paints, draws, and publishes books, but he is probably best known for his Toddlerpede sculptures, the wonderfully creepy, copiously limbed critters created from the many, many bits o' babies which he solicits from people done with their dolls.

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Margaux Lange

credit: Margaux Lange

Designer Margaux Lange excises perfect features from perfect Barbie dolls and deftly incorporates them into her "Plastic Body Series," a collection of jewelry comprised of salvaged dolls, hand-fabricated sterling silver, and pigmented resins.

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Chris Jordan

credit: Migrated Image

The extraordinary work of photographic artist Chris Jordan explores excess and its sad, poignant effects. In his series "Running the Numbers," one of the sets uses 32,000 Barbies -- which is equal to the number of elective breast augmentation surgeries performed monthly in the U.S. in 2006 -- to create a fascinating mosaic image that gets at the heart of the matter.

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Mark Hogancamp

credit: CinemaGuild/YouTube

No collection of dolls in art would be complete without the mention of the master of the doll universe, Mark Hogancamp. Upon surviving a vicious assault that left him brain-damaged and broke, Hogancamp resorted to the incredible world of "Marwencol," a 1/6th scale World War II-era town that he has created in his backyard. Inhabited by legions of GI Joe, Barbie, and other assorted dolls, the world seems to be truly alive to its creator, as well as to many of it viewers. See for yourself in this trailer for Marwencol, a documentary about the man and his wonderful, magical, mystical world.