Masterminds 2014 Honorable Mention: Dan Walker

Miami New Times' Mastermind Awards honors the city's most inspiring creatives. This year, we received more than 100 submissions, which our staff narrowed to an elite group of 30. We'll be profiling those honorable mentions, and eventually the finalists, in the weeks to come. This year's three Mastermind Award winners will be announced February 27 at Artopia, our annual soiree celebrating Miami culture. For tickets and more information, visit the website.

Robot Monkeys made of toys running wild in the streets. That would catch your attention, right?

Miami's Dan Walker knows that, and as the founder of the "Robot Monkey Sports Network, a collective dedicated to improving Robot Monkey/human relations and promoting the use of recycled material in art," he's at the forefront all things robot-monkey. We should all rest a bit easier with that knowledge.

Walker creates art using recycled materials, largely used and discarded toys, and in addition to exhibiting them - he's had shows in Miami, New York, and Vienna - he has a penchant for letting his creatures wander into the wild. During Art Basel, Walker had 10 of his monkeys hanging over NW Second Avenue between 28th Street and 21st Street. But, much to his dismay, his recycled menagerie was undone by the likes of collectors and city workers. According to Walker, though, "the Robot Monkeys shall always rise again."

Cultist: How did you find your way into the world of recycled art and robot monkeys?

Dan Walker: Well, I used to live in New York for about 12 years, and I worked for a toy company there. That's where I initially got a lot of my materials. I saw that they were throwing away so much fun stuff, and that's pretty much how I started working with recycled materials.

What inspired you to start seeing toys as a means to a medium of art? Was it any particular artist that influenced you, the love of the toys, or a bit of both?

I've always been a big fan of Alexander Calder and Calder's Circus, so that was a major inspiration for me. He was a mechanical engineer and the handmade toys he made - he just made the coolest stuff out of nothing. I've remembered that since I was little. Artistically, he's probably the biggest influence.

Did you have any favorite toys when you were growing up that stick out in your memory?

I was a big Transformers fan. I always liked robots. I also really liked Legos, building toys, you know?

As a kid, did you imagine yourself working with toys like this when you grew up?

Oh man, I wanted to be a lot of different things when I was a kid. The toy thing; once I got that job at the toy company, that's when I really started becoming more serious as an artist, but I'd been doing found object art since I was little. I always took apart my toys as a kid and put them back together some different way.

If you could have an installation of your work anywhere in the world, what kind of project would it be, and where would you exhibit it?

My dream would definitely be to have a project at the Whitney that would sort of be like a modern day Calder Circus. That would be amazing. I have a lot of radio controlled sculptures and some kinetic stuff. That would be the hugest honor in the world, haha, but that's a little ways off.

Wanna see more MasterMinds? At Artopia, sponsored by Miracle Mile and Downtown Coral Gables, you can check out work by 2014's ten MasterMind award finalists and watch as the three Mastermind Award winners are announced. And that's just the beginning. Artopia will also include live entertainment by Bottle & Bottega, CircX, and Flamenco Puro; local art by Tesoro Carolina, Trek 6, 8 Bit Lexicon, Hec One Love, Ivan Roque, and Jay Bellicchi; and DJ sets by Main Event Productions, Phaxas, Golden San, Skinny Hendrix, and DJ Supersede. Other sponsors include Rums of Puerto Rico (Official Rum sponsor), Car2Go, El Palacios de los Jugos, Beck's (official beer sponsor), and Vero Water (official water sponsor). Early bird tickets are available through Feb. 2. Visit the official Artopia website.

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