Imagine a tableau of the future captured under a dome, but this future isn’t idyllic: It’s a future in which the laws of nature, physics, and psychology have all broken down simultaneously with civilization as a whole. This is the world that artist Thomas Doyle seals under glass, lending the small-scale intimacy of peering into a dollhouse to his own dreamlike visions of a bizarre and horrifying future.
As a child, Doyle spent his days playing with action figures or studying the methods of special-effects masters like Ray Harryhausen. He was obsessed with miniatures, hunching over tables and playing with meticulously painted Dungeons & Dragons figurines for hours on end. From these roots, Doyle’s fixation on the small was born, and for the last 10 years, his art has focused on creating tableaux or narrative scenes constructed in typical hobby and architectural scales of 1:87 or 1:50.
But while Doyle’s obsession with miniatures may be unchanged from his youth, the nature of the scenes he creates with them has become dramatically darker. Trailed by her children, a grimy, tattered mother hauls suitcases through the woods to a house buried 300 feet beneath the earth. In another scene, an immaculate home floats in the bubble of a force field above the scorched earth of a post-apocalyptic America. Another miniature shows a father carrying his child under his arm; both of their faces are ominously scratched out, and they have been locked inside a beaten-up medical cupboard. The subjects vary, but nearly all are bleak, or at least tragicomic.
“I don’t have a very rosy view of the future, and I suppose that telegraphs quite clearly through my work,” admits Doyle. “The subject of my work tends to be infused with anxiety, fear, isolation … and hopefully some humor as well. I’ve always been drawn to the dark, the surreal, and the absurd. I love the way smaller scales throw these subjects into relief.”
The subject may be more surreal, but Doyle’s creative process is still very much focused on the spirit of play. “I sit in the studio and surround myself with miniature elements such as houses, trees, and figures and move them around until I discover something that catches my eyes,” says Doyle. Once he has an idea, Doyle attempts to actualize it with materials such as wood, wire, foam, styrene, and papier-mache. “I’m constantly saving small items from my household trash and pocketing bits I find on the street. You never know when something may become useful.”
Although his own perspective on the future may be bizarre and phantasmagoric, Doyle seems ambivalent about the existential crises of the miniatures stuck inside his tableaus. In fact, he doesn’t seem to see much of a difference between them and us. “All of us are doing the best with what we have here,” shrugs Doyle. “Sometimes it works out, but a lot of time it doesn’t.”