Jul 22nd 2012 By: Lauren Davis
Years ago, while babysitting my cousin's three-year-old daughter, I was delighted to discover that she owned a complete set of Star Wars action figures in a carrying case shaped like Darth Vader's helmet. Her father explained to me, with a bit of exasperation, that while he had tried to teach her the proper names for all the characters, sometime Bossk or Chewbacca would come away with entirely different names and backstories in her imagination. Having never seen Star Wars (or, back then, even Clone Wars), she had no context for her treasure trove of toys.
In his Secret Identity series, artist Simon Monk takes superheroes out of their narrative element by painting them as action figures, bagged for easy carrying and hung on door hook. Even trapped within their plastic prisons and frozen in a single, dynamic pose, much of their identities still shines through in ways even a three-year-old could see.
In his artist's statement, Monk explains that he in part wanted to explore the nature of a hero's heroic identity over his civilian identity with the extra obscuring layer of plastic. The reflections, such a mundane accent to a heroic character, serve to partially obscure the figures even as we instantly recognize their identities. To that end, each piece is titled not with the character's heroic name, but with his civilian one: "Clark Kent," "Dr. Donald Blake," "Steve Rogers" and so on. Monk also wants to examine the line between mythological figure and consumer product, keeping his figures defiant even as they've been temporarily placed out of the way. It reminds me of a more serious, and somewhat sadder, version of The Simpsons
' "Treehouse of Horror" segment in which the Comic Book Guy places Lucy Lawless in a film bag for "safekeeping."
You can see more of Monk's work, including more toys in plastic bags, at his website