Sculptor Thomas Doyle offers a profound, if morose, take on domestic life and interpersonal relationships by repurposing playthings into artwork that speaks. Using materials and miniatures originally used for the backdrop of model train sets, Doyle creates miniature dioramas enclosed eerily in airless bell jars.
Otherwise soothing scenes of suburbia are rendered in seemingly post-apocalyptic states, with clapboard houses smashed, missing walls, or semi-consumed by a sinkhole no developer could have anticipated.
Faceless, stone-like figures half-buried in foliage are juxtaposed with the frontlines of military conflicts enacted by toy soldiers whom, despite their plastic countenances, look convincingly world-weary. “My works aren’t post-apocalyptic, but there’s an anxiety triggered by that unrealized desire to transcend reality and enter those worlds,” Doyle told the Wall Street Journal.
One poignant scene shows a home surrounded by a circle of destruction – shards of wood and presumably, the detritus of other eviscerated homes – with one lone survivor, a half-inch tall, lingering in the garden. Another shows the cross section of a living room torn asunder, a man standing before the fireplace with a dish towel over his shoulder as his wife turns away from him, suitcases in hand.
Each enclosed art piece, measuring just 7 by 12 inches, must be viewed through a 2-inch piece of concave glass, which turns the diminutive scenes into endless vistas with no way out.
The tiny scenes are wrought from wood, wire, foam, styrene and papier-mache, and some critics have inferred references to America’s housing crisis, but Doyle insists on a muse much closer to home – frayed relationships, debt, anxiety. “I don’t have a very rosy view of the future and I suppose that telegraphs quite clearly through my work,” Doyle told Fast Company in an interview.
The dioramas were displayed recently in the Dream No Small Dream exhibition at London’s Ronchini Gallery as part of a group show of miniature art. His work also appeared in a Thames & Hudson book titled Big Art/Small Art, published in late 2014.