Bo Lanyon – The Death of Optimus Prime

Exhibition  2-17 March 2019

Preview Friday 1 March, 6-8pm

This exhibition explored the memorialisation, shared grief and continuing resonance of the unexpected death of Optimus Prime in the Transformers: The Movie 1986 animated film.  Anchored by this event, these works explored how the unexpectedly potent position of Prime as a substitute father figure came to deeply affect the childhoods of so many.  A totem of reliability and moral fortitude, this must-have toy and animated patriarch hypnotically shifted form, in vivid red, silver and blue, between a Freightliner FL86 cab over semi-truck and a towering humanoid robot.  Imbued with gravitas through Peter Cullen’s gravelly baritone, Optimus Prime was an accidental icon, the glue in a surrogate, imaginary family.
Originally released in 1984, The Transformers was an animated robot superhero television series that rapidly became a highly profitable global franchise.  A deeply ‘toyetic’ universe – a Hollywood term for an intellectual property rich with the potential for merchandise – it has since been reinterpreted in Michael Bay’s cinematic series, grossing over $4.3 billion globally. The Transformers ruthlessly blended commercialism and characterisation, merging a must-have toyline with a Marvel comic book series that solidified fan devotion to the core cast.  However, in the 1986 animated film, the decision to rapidly kill off Prime created an unexpected and severe response in their young and devoted audience – shock and grief.  For those who experienced it, it serves as a resonant and pivotal moment, a connecting trauma.
The Transformers now exists as an established pop culture belief system with equivalence to other, older canons such as Star Wars, Star Trek and the Marvel Universe, with the death scene becoming an essential component in the memorialisation of the mythos across the Transformers fan community.


Bo Lanyon

Born in Cornwall, Bo Lanyon currently lives and works in Bristol, England. He studied at the Royal College of Art, London (2005-07) and the University of Gloucestershire (2000-2003).

Lanyon’s work explores our relationships with conflict.  The work exists across painting, sculpture, publication and public intervention in a blend of history and near future. It seeks to articulate human responses to a range of conflict, from intimate trauma to global events.

Selected exhibitions & events include Where It Is, There It Is, 2018 as part of the Groundwork programme, Cornwall; Age of Panic, White Moose Gallery, 2017; Plymouth Contemporary 2017; publication of The Post-Apocalyptic Colouring Book, 2016; Kith & Kin, Falmouth Art Gallery & Museum, 2016; Broomhill National Sculpture Prize, 2015;  Resilience, Goldman Sachs, 2015; Hidden, Royal College of Art, 2010; 4 New Sensations, Saatchi Gallery & Channel 4, 2007; Jerwood Drawing Prize, 2005.  He was selected for the Cornwall Workshop 2017, has work included in the Zabludowicz Collection and has received a number of awards from Arts Council England.

In April 2019, he presented a new commission on the conscientious objector and future Labour MP Walter Ayles for the First World War & its Legacy: Commemoration, Conflict & Conscience festival across Bristol.

In May 2019, he was part of the group show London Bronze at Squire & Partners, London, which features works by a range of UK-based contemporary artists working in bronze.