LUMBERTON — One might say that traveling from Lumberton to New York City in an attempt to exhibit art takes a lot of guts. But having guts is what motivates Dustin Roy, and it’s what makes him create art from the inside out.
“I start in the chest cavity,” Roy said, holding an 8-inch-tall action figure in his hands. “Leonardo DaVinci would have been proud. He focused on anatomy, and that’s how I make these.”
“These” are fully-mobile action figures that tote weapons. Their most compelling feature is not that they’re made painstakingly by hand or that their insides writhe and tangle like a bucket of snakes; their most compelling feature is that they’re made out of twist ties — that handy invention for around the house.
“All the toys I had as a kid would break easily and I would play with twist ties,” Roy said of the plastic-covered wire that keeps bread fresh or garbage from stinking up the home. “At first, they were stick figures, and then I started really making something out of them. Now I’ve been making them for years.”
Roy, a self-described “budding artist” whose creations can be found on YouTube under the name “twist tie guy,” began making the figurines 10 years ago, when he was 20.
Showing them off with a wide-eyed, boyish enthusiasm, he opens the chest cavity of one to unveil a tiny monster inside that can be taken out and played with.
“I guess it’s the kid in me,” he said bashfully.
Roy started making the figures after having to leave high school due to “family problems.” He later went back to complete his degree, “graduating with honors.”
According to Roy, the only thing the figures cost to make is “time.” Using ties his uncle gave him, Roy twists the creatures together during his days off as a grill cook at Candy Sues Restaurant in downtown Lumberton.
“For me, it’s a stress reliever,” Roy said. “It helps me to relax.”
All 16 of his completed figures are detailed with bulging muscles. Twisted wire is manipulated to give the illusion of complex anatomy, which is why Roy guessed at DaVinci’s approval.
The Italian Renaissance artist is known for his accuracy in depicting humans, an effect he achieved by dissecting human corpses and observing muscles in motion.
As inspiration for the characters themselves, Roy draws from popular movies and TV shows.
“The first one I ever made was of a predator,” he said. “It got completely destroyed.”
Despite being action heroes, Roy’s creations aren’t indestructible. That’s why he tells his nieces and nephews to stay at arm’s length — a command they often ignore.
Roy reaches into the cardboard box that serves as a container and pulls out a figure he calls “Samurai,” a character he has always been drawn to because he loves what the Samurai “taught themselves about honor and discipline.”
“I like everything the Samurai represents,” Roy said. “This one took three weeks — five to six hours a day — to make.”
The figure is 8 inches tall and wields a sword. Twisted tendrils of sinister hair spiral out of its head and a suit of armor opens up and closes.
Roy said he’d sell the figures for a “couple hundred dollars,” but that what he really wants to do is “exhibit them.”
That’s why he went to New York City and visited one of the most influential museums of modern art in the world.
“I went to the Museum of Modern Art and spoke to them about exhibiting,” he said, “but they said I would have to come back and speak to a curator.”