A grown man collecting old toys and dolls may sound like the theme of a particularly cute episode of My Strange Addiction, but for John Purlia, the hobby is the ammunition behind his intricate, wacky and, dare I say, adorable artwork.

Fun fact: Purlia, 53, was the first local artist to be showcased on CityBeat's cover that didn't illustrate a story in the paper. We featured his piece "Final Frame at the Cuius Deo Optimo Open" on the front of our April 11, 2007, issue. Since then, we've kept up with Purlia, who uses pieces from his enormous collection of vintage toys, records and knick-knacks to create scenes and sculptures that he photographs or films.

"It's like living in a toy store," he jokes about his La Jolla home. "I have little collections all over the place. When I'm working on a new photo, I walk around my house to different places that I have tasteful little things set up. I go through there, pick things out, take them out to my studio and put them in one of my little scenes."

After a three-year break from exhibiting new work, Purlia will return with Tales from the Vinyl Dimension: Portraits and Landscapes, running July 1 through 31 at Pannikin Coffee & Tea (7467 Girard Ave. in La Jolla). An opening reception will be held from 5 to 7 p.m. Saturday, July 6.

Typically, an art exhibition touting portraits and landscapes delivers impressionistic meadows and close-ups of sullen-looking people. But because this is a Purlia show, it'll come with a dose of humor.

Think 50 portraits of kewpie dolls, a toy monk using a cell phone, Gumby and other figurines trimming the upper part of the exhibition walls and silly scenes offering social commentary. For instance, a piece titled "The Other Ten Commandments" features a plastic Moses poking out of an Ella Fitzgerald vinyl single of the song "Guilty." Moses is surrounded by toy devils and hellfire.

Purlia acknowledges that people don't always get his art. Still, he hopes the exhibition will bring him new fans.

"The cuteness will draw somebody into the photo," he says. "And then as they look at it longer, they realize there's a deeper story going on."

Write to alexz@sdcitybeat.com. You can also bug her on Twitter.


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