They are herds of dinosaurs, lounges of lizards, bales of turtles, and more. They are groups of different animals interacting. They are single animals, placed strategically over your head, watching you as you pass.
He is an anonymous artist, and he goes by the alias “The King of Toys.” To respect his anonymity, he will be referred to as “Lil’Critter.”
Lil’Critter led the way on foot through campus, pointing out different “installations,” or miniature animal toys that he had glued around campus, both in groups or individually.
“How many times have you walked by here and not noticed this,” he asked.
Critter’s mission with his installations is to train the eye to look upward.
“I like to bring people’s eyesight up,” Lil’Critter said. “Everyone seems to walk with their head down.”
Critter is also satisfying some of his own inclinations with this form of expression, as he compliments and adds to his imagined world.
“I’d like to think that there’s this make-believe world that lives just above eye-level,” he said.
Lil’Critter goes to great lengths in order to create this world. Most of his installations are completed using his 12-foot telescope ladder, but with others, Critter attaches ropes and hangs from rooftops in order to work on an installation. Gluing toys to surfaces requires holding the object in place for several minutes before the glue sets in, which sometimes results in hours up on the ladder or hanging from the roof.
Lil’Critter does not create this “make-believe world” on his own, however. He has a helpful partner in crime, who assists him with particularly difficult installations.
Lil’Critter cleverly works mostly at night on weekdays, so as not to be seen. This method has kept his anonymity intact, for the most part.
Lil’Critter is able to work subtly because he keeps his eyes open on campus for unique opportunities and spots to put up installations.
For about a week last year, a vent inside Gladfelter cafeteria was unbolted. The Critter and his accomplice took note of this foible and one night the two hid in the vent for three and a half hours, waiting for everyone to leave the cafeteria. When the coast was clear, they got out of the vent and worked on gluing several toy animals in bizarre places, left behind like treats for the wandering eyes of students and faculty to discover later on.
Lil’Critter must maintain his vigilance due to the recurrence of his work. Critter tries to put at least one new installation up a week, he said.
Critter estimated that he has spent more than 48 hours putting up installations on Warren Wilson’s campus since he began in the Spring of 2009. He has spent hundreds of dollars on large online orders of toys and has used over $125 in glue alone.
“I’ve dreamed of having commissioned pieces to work with,” Lil’Critter said. “I’ll spend nearly $300 for something to go on the side of a building. I wonder if I’m crazy sometimes.”
Lil’Critter soon won’t have to rely on his own pocketbook to purchase toys and glue for his installations, however. He and his partner in crime recently applied for a grant from Student Caucus on the basis that “there is no money elsewhere, including the Art Department,” according to the grant proposal.
Based on “The King of Toys Campus Beautification Project Proposal,” Critter was officially awarded $150 at the Caucus meeting Tuesday. He plans to spend the money at a local Asheville toy store this time, rather than online.
The Critter’s proposal also made a connection between the work of Lil’Critter and the work of guerrilla artists like Banksy, a graffitiist, and graphic designer Shepard Fairy, who is responsible for the Barack Obama ‘Hope’ poster. However, the proposal states, “the King of Toys does have approval from the Art Department to do this project, so it is not vandalism,” like the work of some other guerrilla artists.
Critter likes to separate his own work from graffiti art that is usually seen as vandalism.
“I like the risky behavior of graffiti, but I think spray paint and stenciling have a bad name,” he said.
Critter points to several lizards on the graffiti wall behind Fletcher, some of which have been painted over.
“That’s my graffiti presence,” he said.
Critter said that he tries to be as respectful with his work space—our campus— as possible.
“I try and leave as little impact as possible and keep it clean,” he said.
But in the end, Critter said, “happiness, outweighs the impact.”
As a result of his respect for the campus, Critter has received some positive feedback from authorities on campus, namely from faculty members.
In response to seeing for the first time one of Critter’s installations, three groups of lizards on the ceiling in Fletcher, one teacher exclaimed “This should be everywhere!”
“When I heard that I was like, alright it will be,” Critter said.
The Lil’Fella says he received motivation from the beginning, which has allowed him to continue his work.
“I had the right encouragement at the very beginning, to keep [my work] going,” he said.
Lil’Critter is also reassured by the utility of his toys that some real-life animals on campus have found.
He watches a bird land on one of his toys glued atop a blue emergency post.
“Now it’s got a perch,” the Critter said.
One of Lil’Critter’s prominent purposes for his work is to encourage others to look around more and explore with their eyes.
“It’s like we’re driven almost with blinders sometimes,” Critter said. “So I want to reward the wandering eye.”
Some on campus notice his installations more than others, while some don’t see the installations at all. However, “it’s at no fault to the people,” Critter said.
“I put some up in my parents’ house,” he said. “[The toys] have been up for a long time, like a year, and they still haven’t seen them.”
Lil’Critter wants to be “kindling that sense of ADD” in us all, to make us notice more and “to train the eye to look up…to raise awareness levels around it.”
Critter worked at a camp this past summer with children with severe attention deficit disorder and hyperactivity disorder. He was inspired by the kids, who make up his “ideal audience” as Critter would say.
“My ideal audience are 8 to 12 year-old children,” Lil’Critter said. “They were forcefully put in a structured system, but that doesn’t encompass the whole person.”
The children he worked with were very observant, Critter said. Immediately after he put up an installation in the cafeteria at the camp, the children noticed it.
With his installations, Lil’Critter hopes to convey a playful message, while satisfying some of his own creative and childish desires and inspirations.
“It’s a cry of youthful expression,” he said. “I try to keep as many links to childhood as I can.”
But his main motivation for his work comes from amusing his audience.
“[Seeing other people’s reactions] is my drive behind it,” Lil’Critter said. “I get more satisfaction seeing people smile. Some is for my own benefit, but 95 percent of it is for the viewer.”
Critter said he wants to improve the quality of people’s days, and put a smile on their face, “even if they just laugh at the ridiculousness of someone getting on a roof just to put a toy up.”
“I wanted to move this team of tumbling lizards through campus,” Critter explained his lizard installations on several buildings. “I try to make it everywhere, with lil’critters running around.”
Lil’Critter seeks to add a sense of playfulness to campus with his miniature animals. He sets up scenes between the toys, building a story in his mind of their interactions.
“I like the narrative scenes and the communication between animals,” Lil’Critter said. “I like imagining things, like setting up conversations between penguins and dinosaurs.”
Lil’Critter uses little critters, as opposed to little people, for example, because “people are everywhere, and the jungle and dinosaurs aren’t.”
In addition, “it brings a level of innocence to see such a small creature,” he said.
According to Lil’Critter, this is his legacy he leaves, not only on campus, but off campus as well.
“I want to leave a slight, playful mark of my existence,” Critter said.
He has decorated not only walls, ceilings, classrooms, buildings and more on campus, but he has spread his art elsewhere throughout the country.
“I’ve done it all over the place,” Critter said. “I mean it started at Warren Wilson but they’re in California, on chair lifts, in airplanes…”
Lil’Critter hopes to continue his work after he leaves Warren Wilson, and even go places and create installations on a bigger scale.
“I want to be able to glue a car to the ceiling of a parking structure,” Lil Critter said. “I want to keep increasing the scale.”
“So many installations, not enough time.”