Repressed Memories

How can something so cute be so suspicious? Peerapol Aintoom paints colorful plastic toys, they’re non-threatening and bright symbols of a happy childhood. But they live in a surreal universe that feels impossible. Something anxious is always tugging at the corners of his kawaii world. Bright blue skies and candy-coated surfaces feel like a veil hiding some dangerous truth. His technique is photorealistic with clean and shiny surfaces, crisp lines, and perfectly blended colorsโ€”but the subject matter is slightly off. Where are all the humans? Are the toys alive? Are these idyllic scenes inescapable? We never learn the answers.

Before Aintoom was painting in this style, he was working in traditional and contemporary Thai styles. “Whenever I painted living things, they always looked like objects,” the 30-year-old, Pathum Thani-based artist explains. “Everything I paint looks unnatural, people look like plaster.” So he leaned into it and his flaw became his trademark.

He gravitated towards the toys he loved since his youth. “I loved how they brought my favorite cartoons to life, they became tangible. I could hold them in my hands.” As a kid he would chop them up and create new ones by taking one head and adding it to another body, something he still enjoys doing. “Maybe I have Peter Pan syndrome,” he laughs.

Aintoom’s paintings, which are acrylic on linen, are based on his own toy collection. He has a room full of them, with shelves packed tight with different toys, where he also does his paintings. “When I start a new piece or series, I always go out and find new toys for modeling,” he says. He shops at a local second-hand market with rare models from the 50s to the 80s and finds others online.

The paintings are a mix of nostalgia and an attempt to bewilder. As much as they’re a celebration of the joy that toys bring him, Aintoom is also kind of messing with our heads. “I hope that people will feel the tension so they’ll go back and ask questions about their own childhood when they look at my work,” he says. We just may not like what we find.