Late last week one of CBC Music’s designers, Ben Didier, shared with me a very curious link. It lead to an artist’s website that depicted detailed recreations of Prince albums covers with a tiny Thunderbirds-esque doll resembling the mustachioed soul-rocker instead of the man himself. It was such a quirky tribute I had to learn more, so I contacted the Seattle-based artist behind Le Petit Prince, Troy Gua.
Q: I guess the obvious first question is: why did you decide to make a tiny Prince doll your art project in the first place?
A: I was really just doing something fun for myself. I've been really entrenched in the Seattle art scene for a few years, and with a modicum of success, but I was just feeling down on the whole treadmill feeling I was having. Instead of making the accessible work I had started my career with, I was making cynical art about art for other artists, and it was making me doubt myself and my choice to follow a career in art, and generally unhappy and I felt like I wasn't making the strides I wanted to be making. I decided to cleanse myself of the bad feelings I was having by creating a loving and humorous tribute to my hero.
Q: In your statement regarding the Le Petit Prince project you say that “Prince changed your life.” How did Prince change your life?
A: In many ways. Prince was introduced to me by my sister right as I was hitting puberty, and with hormones a-raging, I was immediately transfixed by this ultra sexual, androgynous, other worldly creature’s equally alien and ambiguous music, message and, indeed, his entire aesthetic. He was so confident, so self-assured, so astoundingly talented, so … weird. It was exactly what I, as a skinny, awkward pubescent kid who always felt different, needed – a hero I could relate to and aspire to be like. I wasn’t a musician, but I was always an artist, and Prince’s musical virtuosity has always inspired me to be the best I can be at whatever I choose to do artistically. And his eclecticism showed me that I didn’t have to stick to one thing, one style, one type of art – that it was OK to explore as many ideas and ways of expressing myself as I saw fit. And I do. He’s been the single biggest influence on my life and work.
Q: I think what is so remarkable about this project is your attention to detail and exact recreation. Only a true fan would give it this much love. How long did Le Petit Prince take?
A: The actual making of the figure only took a week or so — I sourced the articulated body from a Japanese custom 1/6 scale site and modified and painted it, adding body hair (cashmere fuzz). I sculpted the head out of Sculpey polymer clay, adding glass doll eyes and a cut and styled (by me) wig. I then painted it and added false eyelashes. Voila! The changing hairstyles and facial hair is done with different wigs and by removing and reapplying the cashmere in different figurations. The clothing, props, and sets, depending upon how elaborate, take a few days per shoot.
Q: This work has done quite well online. Were you surprised by how it took off or did you sense the viral potential of this project?
A: Absolute surprise. This was in no way a calculated move to reach his fan base, it was simply something that made me happy. I posted some images on Facebook and when there were enough to be considered a collection, I made a page on my website. The project's images got picked up by prince.org, an American fan site, and it just took off from there. Other country's fan sites began posting it, people began friending me on Facebook, and then folks began requesting certain eras and looks. I took it and ran with it. This has all been a huge blast, but I had no clue something like this would happen.
Q: I understand that the Roots’ Questlove picked up on this. Could you explain the exchange you’ve had with him?
A: Yeah! Someone tweeted a link to the Le Petit Prince page to him, and he immediately re-tweeted it and started following me on Twitter and then did the same thing on Facebook. We've had a couple of back and forths — he wants me to do a recreation of the Sign o' the Times album cover, which I just happen to already be working on! Ha! He's an amazing talent and I'm a big fan — I just love that he digs my work.
Q: Do you know if this has reached the big man himself?
A: I can't say definitively, but at this point I'm betting he's seen it. Got my fingers crossed for an email or a phone call.
Q: Finally, what did you learn from this project (either about Prince or just personally)?
A: I've learned to try to listen more to my positive side and to try to turn down the volume on my negative side, and to follow the truths that I gleaned from Prince early on — that it's cool to be different, it's cool to express your true self, it's cool to be weird. The different looks and sets and such have really allowed me to re-examine some of the reasons that I fell in love with this guy in the first place, such as his ability to pull off the most outrageous stylistic choices with a straight face and complete confidence. It’s been very nostalgic and cathartic for me going through all the eras and reliving those feelings again, remembering where I was, who I was, who I was with when I first experienced the sights and sounds of Prince. It’s really been an amazing stroll down memory lane. I've also decided that Prince has either found the Fountain of Youth, or he's a vampire. Dude hasn't aged.
Gua is turning the photos from Le Petit Prince into a photo book but you can see a lot of amazing shots of the little Prince on his website. To raise funds for his book endeavor, Gua has created a limited edition poster version of the famous shot of Prince in the shower but with Le Petit Prince wearing tiny black briefs — of course.
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