Conventional artists used to pick up a canvas or start chiselling marble to create art. Today? Not so much. Contemporary, modern-day artists still possess skills to do so, but seem to have found a different way of showing off their art by creating collectibles and art toys. The collectibles space used to be heavily dominated by anime or comic book characters. Not anymore. While comic book characters are popular and widely available, art toys are considered to be realms above them in terms of value and overall appeal.

Brian Donnelly aka KAWS, used to be a graffiti artist, painting his characters on the buildings of New York. While graffiti artists were never considered to be ‘real’ artists, artists like KAWS and Jean-Michelle Basquiat helped break that misconception. The artist gained popularity, and started to display and sell figurines of his characters. Critics and art collectors started paying more attention to KAWS, and the man only grew bigger from there. Today, KAWS’ character, Companion, is the primary subject of almost all his figurines. It is the sole product that dominates this market from a demand-and-value perspective. An 11-inch KAWS figurine starts from around $350 USD (approximately Rs 25,000). But a four-foot Companion can fetch up to approximately Rs 84 lakh. Karan Khatri, YouTuber and Indian streetwear social media personality, is a proud owner of two Companions, and explains his love for them. “I really like the aesthetic and the design of the character. My house is inspired by sneakers and streetwear, which makes it hard for me to not get involved with such collectibles as it heavily influences my day-to-day job of being a YouTuber. These retail for around $220, and resell for a minimum of twice the amount, and even up to 20 times or more. But, they still have a line of buyers at that price, and that is what makes them stand out from other collectibles. They are trendier and connect better with the youth,” he says.

While KAWS was instrumental in building this space for art toys, several artists today have moved into the world of collectibles. Takashi Murakami, Keith Haring, Steven Harrington, Pat Lee, Futura, Quiccs, and Hebru Brantley are some of the big names that follow KAWS. Apart from artists, Japanese brand Medicom’s toy, Bearbrick, specialises in unique collaborations and creating limited edition art toys that grow to be extremely valuable. The exclusivity of these collectibles is what make them desirable pieces, but it is also their biggest drawback. These collectibles are usually sold online, and are limited to 150 to 500 pieces. It is almost impossible to purchase them online because they are sold out in seconds of being up for sale. StockX is the biggest platform to cop these pieces at resale prices. From India, you’ll have to pay almost 40 per cent additional taxes, and fill in a lot of paperwork to get them inside the country. But that’s where middlemen come in. Unicorn Arts is an India-based company that deals with paintings, pop art, and art toys. The company operates out of Delhi, but has another branch in Virginia to help facilitate and authenticate the purchases. The company has special tie-ups with sellers and galleries in Dubai, America, and Japan, where they procure the art. Ishani Birla, art enthusiast and founder of Unicorn Arts, has noticed an influx of Indians who now have developed a taste for them. “India is an upcoming market for pop art and art toys. The demand is widely increasing in our country, and they are moving towards pop art and art toys over conventional paintings. The younger generation has now started investing in art, and started considering art as an investment and not just something you hang on the wall.”

Aavesh Malik founded Big Boy Kicks India, one of the country’s go-to reseller and sourcing portals. Malik started out with exclusive sneakers, but had a growing demand of inquiries about collectibles, and eventually started dealing in them. Today, his page can boast selling extremely limited and coveted pieces, including KAWS and Bearbrick. “A collectible like KAWS’ Companions can be compared with investing in gold. Since the demand cannot meet the supply, they will always have high resale value and with time, will be an asset that pays you over 300 per cent or more of its original value,” he says. But with any art piece, authenticity is of utmost importance. And like every other product out there, art toys can also fall prey to the ‘gandi copy’ market. Both Unicorn Art and Big Boy Kicks, as well as any trusted seller, ensures that by having trustworthy and certified sources. When the collectible is in hand, minute details like the weight, build, and packaging are observed and verified. The new Companions come with a special NFC tag that almost act as a digital certificate of authenticity. After scanning the unique NFC tag, sellers and buyers can verify if the product is original or not. While many may dismiss these collectibles as unnecessary or immature purchases, and label them as ‘toys’, a young, niche crowd of Indians has already recognised its hidden value. Collectibles can be a way of supporting the artist and their art, while making a smart, financial choice at the same time. You don’t keep them in vaults, even though they’re valuable enough to be in one. Instead, you display them in the living room to add to the décor, and quietly let their value skyrocket while doing so.