Stephen McMennamy is used to playing mash up with his art. He’s moved a stack of doughnuts with a wheelbarrow, captured a hummingbird doing cross stitch, and replaced a page of a book with a slice of swiss cheese in his surreal photographs.
So when Play-Doh called for artists to insert its sculptors’ impressively lifelike creations into real-world settings, McMennamy couldn’t resist.
To celebrate its annual “World Play-Doh Day,” on Sept. 15, Hasbro paired up with artists like McMennamy and Kim Hall to have them reimagine their favorite travel destinations using Play-Doh compound—from Utah’s Arches National Park to the canals of Venice through media photographs.
I guess I just don't want to be an adult artist. I savor the kid in me, and I've never really been able to shake that.
Marriott’s Sheraton Hotels brand also got in on the action, teaming up with Play-Doh to integrate sculpted creations at five of the brand’s hotels around the world. There’s a Play-Doh camel on the rooftop of the Sheraton Dubai Mall Of The Emirates Hotel; dolphins playing at the Sheraton Waikiki; a giant guitar inside the Sheraton Grand Nashville Downtown; parrots getting comfortable in a suite at the Sheraton Grand Rio Hotel and Resort, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; and a Play-Doh teapot pouring a cup of tea at the Sheraton Grand London Park Lane.
Play-Doh has plenty to celebrate, having sold more than 3 billion cans of the gooey-gummy chewing gum product for your hands over the past 60 years. Once sold in just red, blue, yellow and white is now offered in more than 50 colors, attracting artists like McMennamy.
“Teaming up with Play-Doh has allowed me—and my kids—to rediscover our creativity and add a fun twist to our favorite places,” McMennamy says. “When you view the world through the eyes of a child, it’s pretty amazing to see how much more interesting and fun your surroundings can be.”
Marriott TRAVELER caught up with McMennamy, who wanted to add monkeys to the New York City skyline, an ice cream sundae to the canals of Venice and giraffes to Arches National Park, to discuss his art and his love for Play-Doh.
As an adult artist, what draws you to a medium like Play-Doh?
I guess I just don’t want to be an adult artist. I savor the kid in me, and I’ve never really been able to shake that. Play-Doh is just one of those magical substances that you want to play with. I don’t know, maybe some adults don’t want to, but I definitely do. Its just one of those things that bridges the gap between me and my kids. I think just being involved with them in some way and connecting with them has been really wonderful and one of the joys of the project.
Play-Doh is such a reusable material, how to do you feel about it being memorialized on a more permanent format for World Play-Doh Day?
Well I think it just coincides nicely with photography in a fun way. I don’t think Play-Doh can be kept one way for too long … and I guess that’s what I love about photography too: that it freezes moments. Play-Doh is moldable and can be forever changed but I love this idea of it being preserved or captured like any other photo where it freezes that moment in the form that we want it to be.
I do travel quite a bit so I am quite fortunate that I'm exposed to all of these amazing locations.
How did you choose your inspiration for these photos?
I think it was more a Play-Doh challenge to me—just finding places that I love. I do travel quite a bit so I am quite fortunate that I’m exposed to all of these amazing locations. It was really creating with variety. Let’s be in the city, let’s be in the States, let’s go wherever we can go. I think it just came down to these three just being the most visually appealing of the lot that we had to choose from and then went nuts from there.
Any places you’ve traveled to recently that surprised you?
I would say Italy is the most magical place to me. My wife and I are just obsessed with Italy. Every time we go we find something different or unique and their history goes so deep, you just always find a surprise there.
When did you start sculpting with Play-Doh? Was it just for this challenge?
Really this project, but I’ve play with it often with my kids, and still do. But as far as making that leap from a toy that we all want to play with and putting it into my art? That wasn’t anything I had on my radar but I am extremely grateful that I was given the challenge because now I think about it differently.
As a matter of fact, I am starting another big project that I felt like Play-Doh could really help me through the process. It may not be a part of the final process but, I think I will use it kind of like sketching. I love how to works and it can give you that 3D image you’re looking for instantly and go from there. I’m really thankful for the Play-Doh inspiration.
What was your initial reaction to this opportunity?
I thought it was awesome! I actually hold Play-Doh in a pretty high regard so I think I was initially, I guess, star struck in the fact that Play-Doh wanted me to be involved with them in some way. It was flattering and exciting and I couldn’t wait to do it.
Now that you’ve done this, do you ever take Play-Doh with you when you and your family travel?
We actually do travel with it. Not every time, but it’s definitely a staple for our travel bag. I can’t imagine being on an airplane and not having Play-Doh for some reason. I find it the perfect travel companion, especially for families with kids.
I would like to see the Taj Mahal in Play-Doh. It may have already been done but I would like to see that.
What’s your favorite item you’ve ever created with Play-Doh?
This project was my hands down favorite thing I’ve ever done with Play-Doh. I feel like collaborations are always more meaningful. I really enjoy when it’s not just one person driving the work. It becomes other people pushing you and you doing the same in turn and you just get a much better end result that way.
Have your kids made anything impressive with Play-Doh?
To be completely honest, no. That does not mean that they’re not amazing little artists but I just haven’t seen that special thing yet. Actually, let me take that back, everything they make is amazing.
What’s your best advice for someone who wants to sculpt with Play-Doh?
I would just say don’t limit yourself. That’s one of the points and beauties of Play-Doh. It’s pretty limitless. When you put too many restraints on yourself in general you ultimately can limit yourself. That’s what’s hard about being an adult artist, to try and feel as uninhibited as a kid.
What is something that maybe you’ve wanted to make with Play-Doh that you haven’t tackled yet now that you’ve done this project?
I would like to see the Taj Mahal in Play-Doh. It may have already been done but I would like to see that. I really do think there’s something incredibly therapeutic about Play-Doh. You just start with this lump of nothing and you can quickly turn it into something. Once you get your hands on it you immediately remember what it was like as a kid.