Troy Gua isn’t the first artist to run afoul of the Artist currently known as Prince, we all remember that dancing toddler who was served with a Cease & Desist letter in 2007. However the wet towel snap of the law stung a little bit more for Gua for he had been an ardent fan of Prince for close to 30 years at the time (read SPIN‘s account of the drama).
Gua’s work(s) of art, Le Petit Prince, featured a 1/6th scale marionette of the musical super genius posed in re-creations of landmark Prince album covers, video moments and film clips. The project went viral, gaining fans around the world including ?uestlove of the Roots who frequently wears an LPP shirt while DJing and sported one of Troy’s custom-made ‘<3’ emblems on his lapel the night Prince played Fallon.
You would think that Prince would be honored, but we all remember, Prince has similarly refused to grant ”Weird Al” Yankovic permission to parody his songs for years. Under the protection of the law, Weird Al has the full right to parody Prince’s music without permission, but he takes the high road and doesn’t. When Gua received Prince’s Cease & Desist, he obliged too and turned himself into the star of a new series, Le Petit Troy. Now fully in control, Troy, often accompanied by a Petite version of his wife Catherine, was able to go on adventures on this planet and beyond, inhabiting the creative spaces from Raiders of the Lost Ark, Star Wars, the Prince universe and more. See the full Le Petit Troy gallery.
But you can only keep a Petit man down for so long. Last month, Le Petit Prince roared back into our hearts in a brand new film, When Doves Get Real Sad.
To celebrate the new film and a new chapter for Le Petit Prince, Popdose caught up with Troy Gua in his Seattle studio.
POPDOSE: When Doves Get Real Sad plays like the epic new chapter in a thrilling saga. Chapter one, Le Petit Prince was the international blockbuster — the Star Wars if you will. After the Cease & Desist, Le Petit Troy springs up — deeper, more expansive, more uplifting and adventurous — the Empire in my eyes. And now this film — the feel good Jedi of the series.
Let’s start with Le Petit Troy; was this series inspired by your shrink? (apologies, could not resist).
TROY GUA: Le Petit Troy was my answer to the C&D, where I basically said, fine, I’ll be the hero, I’ll be the star, and I can be whomever I want. I can put my own face on these iconic personalities and live out my dreams through a 1/6-scale version of myself! (Laughs)
It was a super fun series and a great way to exorcise some crap from the LPP experience, and it was interesting conceptually. I think I learned some things, technically, like lighting and camera work, that I hadn’t really used with LPP previously. I did my best to recreate the classic covers and it progressed quite a bit, but the first series was essentially pictures of the art, whereas with LPT, it had progressed into photography – the pictures were the art.
I never thought I’d see LPP again. What inspired the new movie — was it firm legal ground that what you’re doing is indeed art? Or has “that guy’s lawyers” softened their stance?
I naturally wanted to try out my new skills on LPP. Prince is an endlessly fascinating human being, and the source imagery is seemingly infinite. Images of him are etched into my human fabric, so I couldn’t help but begin retooling and shooting new work.
I’d always planned to have him be mobile on a motorcycle from day one; it’s just now that I got around to making it happen. My ultimate LPP fantasy would be to remake Purple Rain a la Gerry Anderson’s Thunderbirds or Parker & Stone’s Team America.
When Doves Get Real Sad is something that I wanted to do from the get-go, but now there’s an actual story to tell with it. To speak to legal ground, I’m confident that what I’m doing is indeed art, but I’m also confident that what I’m not doing is using any names or symbols, I’m not directing friends and fans and followers to buy anything via these images, I’m not using existing imagery, so I’m not infringing anything. This is new work.
I took down the old work that got me the C&D. Apples and oranges. I’m sure ‘that guy’s lawyers’ are as firm as ever, but there’s nothing to be firm about, in this case. I just wanted to tell the story, and I wanted to do it as a hopefully hilarious dramatic montage, a satire of the Kid’s contemplative motorcycle ride montage from Purple Rain. The homage was made in fun, love and celebration.
Let’s jump in the Delorean for a moment. You discovered Prince at the age of 13. What was your gateway album and/or single? How did those songs affect you?
I was aware of him at probably 11, with ‘Little Red Corvette’, ‘1999’ and ‘Delirious’ playing on the radio and videos on MTV. My brother explained to me what a ‘(used) Trojan’ was. I don’t remember what I thought about it, I loved that song, though, and watched the videos at my buddy’s house, because we didn’t have cable. But I became a card-carrying fanatic with the rest of the world with Purple Rain. That was white suburbia’s grand introduction, and it made a lasting impression on me. I did a friend’s paper route for a few weeks in the summer with my mom that year, and ‘When Doves Cry’ was on heavy rotation – we’d hear it everyday two or three times. It played in my head when I slept. My sister took me to the movie, and that was it.
‘Erotic City’, the B Side to ‘Let’s Go Crazy’, is still my favorite song. It’s just primal and undeniable – it’s pure sex. And for a shy, horny 13-year old boy, that song was like an aural orgasm – it was what you imagined the Sex Gods would sound like, if there were Sex Gods. It was the perfect soundtrack to my life at the time.
What eras or albums do you listen to most often?
Oh, boy, that’s tough to answer, because it really is a revolving playlist. Recently I was really into the mid-90’s Gold Experience/Come/NPG stuff – it’s so damn good and was so under-appreciated at the time. It’s kickass work – up there. But then I’ll listen to the early work from For You through to 1999, too – it’s always fun to go back and marvel at how good he was at such a young age, but also to make note of how incredibly far he grew. I hopscotch – it’s all good.
2015 marks the 30th anniversary of Around the World in a Day, did this album get better or worse with age in your eyes?
BETTER! I had it on repeat while I was creating a little LPP miniseries to commemorate the anniversary. Each song is great in its own right. At the time it came out, I loved it, but I was more excited for whatever was next. Now I can go back and appreciate it for what it is – a beautifully cohesive work of art. And it’s really the only album that’s in a totally different tone than the rest of the 80s and 90s work. Everything else is a progression on the same theme. This is decidedly 60s influenced and it’s a pastiche, but it’s beautifully done. ATWIAD is a stand-alone, in a way. He heralds in his new utopia and says goodbye to it all within the course of 9 songs.
If you had to live for a year dressed fully in one of Prince’s fashion eras, what would it be?
(Laughs) Well, if I had failed so completely at whatever it was to warrant such a punishment, let the punishment suit the crime: DIRTY MIND! What else!?!
Prince is one of those artists who I worship (the art) but would never want to meet in person. If you did get some 1:1 time with him, where would it ideally be and what would you want to talk about?
I’ve been flip-flopping on that for years. I like to say that I probably wouldn’t want to meet him, but the truth is, if I were summoned, I’d go in a heartbeat. I’d love to hear what he thinks about LPP – there’s a lot to it, I’m sure, because there’s a lot to it on my side of it, too. Ideally speaking, my house would be the spot I’d love to chat with him. He could see the work, we could drink tea, talk about art, music, life, love. The good things.
Troy Gua’s art extends well beyond the world of marionettes, Prince and Star Wars. His ongoing series, Pop Hybrids, morphs together images of iconic celebrities, visionaries and world leaders and is available at Seattle Art Museum’s SAM Gallery. Gua also does corporate commission work, including installations for commercial clients and specialty work.
See the full Le Petit Troy series and more at Troygua.com