Art

Oliver Clegg and the Accidental Genius of eBay Seller Galleries

The artist discusses his show, Euclid's Porsche, and stumbling into a treasure trove of inspiration.

Conceptual artist Oliver Clegg was flipping through eBay for subject material when a small Ronald McDonald toy caught his eye. It wasn’t the item itself, but rather the nature of the image that nabbed his attention.

“It had a very strong light and dark. It looked like a Caravaggio, which I thought was interesting that someone would make a photograph of an object that they’re selling for $3.99, and present it in such a beautiful way,” he explained. “I was like, was this a deliberate decision? Or was it accidental? I didn’t really care what the answer was, because ultimately I thought it was beautiful.”

It was an unusual discovery that wound up sparking a project of 150 paintings with a bizarre, humorous, and very specific theme: eBay images of Happy Meal toys.

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Courtesy of the artist and Rental Gallery

“It wasn’t something [like] this is the concept that’s driving me to do it. I was just finding a way to make paintings,” Clegg said while walking through Rental Gallery in Chelsea, where 120 of his works are now on view in his first solo show in New York, titled Euclid’s Porsche. “When [I’m asked] why Happy Meal toys? Well, I just kind of lucked upon it. It wasn’t like I want to express something about over saturation of imagery in 20th-century life. Yes, you can make these paintings into anything. For me, it’s much more about process, and the resource was consistent.”

As it so happens, the world of eBay Happy Meal toy sellers is not only a consistent source but a fruitful one. Clegg estimates that he sifted through 300 images, selecting pictures for their tonal qualities, or the composition. Any image that struck him as accidental artistic genius.

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Courtesy of the artist and Rental Gallery
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Courtesy of the artist and Rental Gallery
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Courtesy of the artist and Rental Gallery

There’s a humor in the material, not in only elevating amateur photography to art, but in Clegg finding beauty or melancholy—or anything special at all, really—in items that are objectively banal. The mass-produced trinkets are not exactly priceless antique treasures.

Building further on the absurdity, Clegg reached out to his friend, the text-based artist Darren Bader, to come up with a title for the show. Bader created about 200, from which Clegg chose “Euclid’s Porsche” out of a hat. The complete list of names, along with all 150 paintings in the project, wound up in the show’s catalog.

Clegg’s Ronald McDonald toy was never actually delivered to him, not that it matters. The Caravaggio-esque image that initially grabbed him was all he ever really needed.

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Courtesy of the artist and Rental Gallery
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Courtesy of the artist and Rental Gallery
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Courtesy of the artist and Rental Gallery

“In a way, these paintings don’t belong to me. I was just the kind of conduit who was able to express them in some way,” he mused, pointing out that although all of the subjects are Happy Meal toys, the project has nothing to do with McDonald's. “Ultimately there are these artists who have made these pieces and don’t care that they’ve made them, and don’t care that I’ve taken the imagery, and don’t care that they made something that is potentially beautiful. But they have, and it exists, and so this is kind of a document of that, of my interest in that.”

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Euclid’s Porsche is on view now at Rental Gallery in Manhattan and runs through May 25.

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