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Friday, 9 September 2016

STGCC 2016: Getting Jiggy with Jon-Paul Kaiser



The UK-based designer, painter and artist got into the game early as a little person transforming Fisher Price trucks into battle tanks and drawing robots. As a big person, Jon-Paul Kaiser graduated from a model-making course and landed a design job, hopped around a little before an eventful X-box night. Porlzilla recommended Vinylpulse and El Panda (by Muttpop). The idea of making his own toys on such a limited scale was something he never thought possible, and he dived right in, making original resin-cast art toys with Porlzilla, and then onto production figures for Toy2R and Kidrobot.

There can be no mistaking Jon-Paul Kaiser’s work - bold and unapologetically monochromatic with strong distinct graphic black and white lines to create his signature high-contrast striking palette, anchoring and distinguishing himself as the only artist in the art toy world to do so regardless of platforms, customising and unifying them in his style.

This would be his virgin visit to our sunny shores and there’s much to be excited about. The Huck Gee collaboration and convention exclusive Skullhead Samurai showcases the impact and versatility of his aesthetics and this would be the starting point of our interview:

Me: I am actually quite surprised that the debut would be a collaboration and not the OG. Can you take us through how this came to be, and the level of your creative input? I can’t tell much from the press release photographs but are there any Easter eggs? Is the motif on its armour representative of anything?

JPK: Well, I designed the figure a few years back. I'm a massive history and culture geek and samurai have always fascinated me, and I wanted to distill some of the key features that stood out to me, such as the layered armour, the kimono, the helmet and crest - and then twist that down into my own style and form. There are subtle details on there in the form of an engraved pattern in the kimono, which is reflected on the crest as well. These are flowers, part of my interest in these warriors was the juxtaposition between the delicate art and decoration on their instruments of warfare; beautifully engraved swords with sculpted pommels and guards.. and yet they're intended to slice another man open! When speaking to Jake at Pobber who is producing this figure, I asked that rather than have several different colour variations of the same design released, could we invite guest artists to have their take on it. I drew up a list of the artists I'd love to have involved, and without expectation, Huck Gee said he was in! He's long been one of my favourite artists and the subject matter and style of figure suited his aesthetic completely, and his figure looks amazing!
Skullhead Samurai
Me: Without a doubt, Huck Gee's take did not diminish your design. In fact, it was a seamless merge of aesthetics. Now, probing a little deeper. You’re a collector of vintage Star Wars. There’s a lot of pop cultural cross-overs and one in particular seem to be right up your alley. What do you think of Bandai’s Movie Realisation series (Samurai Darth Vadar)? Given your love for all things robots and mecha, have you ever given a thought about mechanising the Skullhead Samurai during the initial conceptualising stages? If you were given free reign, what sort of steampunkery wizardry would you put in? A steam-engine powered propulsion blade?

JPK: Oh, that figure... It kind of makes me angry in a way because it seems so obvious and I didn't think of it! So envious! A mechanised version of the Skullhead hadn't crossed my mind to be honest. I like my mechs clean and a bit retro-futuristic, so it would be lacquered black and chrome number like an old Rolls Royce. One arm would have a set of three arquebuses (like muskets) and the other a steam-powered siege hammer for tearing up buildings. I daydream a lot, especially when I'm walking my dog through the hills and woods near me, it's here that I get most of my ideas, making up narratives... these often have mechs smashing up a fortress or charging through a forest on a distant planet somewhere.

Me: Speaking of woods... In many of your interviews, you mentioned walks in the woods when asked about inspiration. Clearly, sylvan elements are missing from your work so the question is, what kind of woods do you walk in? Is there a favourite spot where you sink into the lush deep shadows and turn on the existential switch? What do you actually do when you take these walks? Are you a fan of the 100 acre woods? Is your creative process mopey?

JPK: Mopey?! Ha ha ha! Oh man, I hope I don't come across that way - that is so far away from where I am as a person! The woods I take walks in a glorious; they're fairly new being on reclaimed mining industry land, but they're lush, green and very large so walking around in them you can go hours without seeing anyone else. I'm usually daydreaming and looking at nature when I'm on these walks.

I also do something called Night Hiking with a couple of friends; one night a week we drive up to the small mountains near us, park up and hike through the hills in the dark. We take head-torches for emergencies but generally walk by the light of the moon. Now that's an amazing experience; the silence is heavy in the air and there's no-one else around, so we chat, have a laugh and can be pretty crude, safe in the knowledge that nobody is going to hear us and be offended!


Me: Well, Singapore only has urban jungles but I'm sure you'll find mega-inspiration in the Super Trees in Gardens by the Bay. You’ve mentioned (on Neil Harvey) that your palette was an economical choice and that the heavily exaggerated shadows and stark contrasts makes your custom stand out in a group show and on (Softoyhobby) that it helps to focus the design, even going as far as claiming that a good design shouldn’t need colours to work. (God clearly isn’t very good when he went at making rainbows.) You make excellent points and a lot of your pieces are dramatically emotive. Why have you not made a fun piece, one that is as retardedly happy as Spongebob? Are your customs an extension of you? Do you wear black all the time?

JPK: Ha ha! I do wear black a lot, but only because it's so stylish! For me, an emotional connection is really important in a piece; it resonates for far longer and tells much more of a story than a figure that is simply 'cute'. Something that is cute has an instant appeal but in my opinion doesn't go as deep or last as long, and therefore additional costume elements or scenery have to be added to expand its story or setting. I think to a degree my customs are an extension of myself, or at least the more introspective part of my character; a search for meaning and a yearning to explore different cultures, histories and stories. Also, I'm not a glum goth or anything! To me there's nothing more important in life than a good laugh. My wife and my closest friends are all incredibly funny people and I'm never happier then when there's a group of us sitting around and the tales and jokes are being told and we're screaming with laughter... even then actually things tend to get quite dark...

Me: I absolutely agree with you that designer or art toys should go deeper than cute. I've always had a preference for toys that have narratives tied to them. Next up is the perennial favourite but with a twist. You’ve probably named everyone in the universe  (in previous interviews), saying that you look up to them or would love to work with them. Even though it’s generous of you to not trample on anyone’s fragile feelings, that’s cheating. You’ll have to narrow it down to one today, one artist in the community that you feel has influenced your work the most significantly.

20' proof of friendship
JPK: This is easy; J*RYU, we made friends at NYCC in 2012 I think, he's had me stay as a guest at his house and we've had many long conversations since; analysing every aspect of the industry, from the community, to the business side of things, creativity, style, tools and convention practices. We bounce ideas around and we're on a very similar wave-length with very similar aims and aspirations, both for ourselves and this community. Jesse is a true mentor and a peer I truly respect, and he helped me change my mind from this being hobby to my own tiny industry.

Me: Ah Jesse Jesse. When he talks shops, he really talks the house down. There’s that time on August 9th 8.01pm when he wrote the Facebook post “We buy the paper clips”. That was an awesome read. Now comparing it with what you had said (admittedly a good 3-4 years before his rant) about the quick cashing-ins by Sucklord copycats and the subsequent watering down of the toy scene with mediocre (at best) products, and how, in recent years, platforms (and licensed products) are becoming the default and companies are no longer as willing to experiment as they once do when the scene was flourishing, how strongly do you want to slap/hug him? For me, the biggest take away is this:  ‘See, art, in and of itself, has never been the problem. It's the business of art that has been the culprit.’ And even though I agree with this and generally, with the point that art is subjective, I cannot help but feel that there are a few truly exceptional pieces out there that can be universally awful and bad. What’s your take on it? Extra redeemable points (for food of the champions - one packet of Singapore Olympic medallist’s favourite food) if you are brutally honest. 

JPK: Now it's getting heavy! Well, of course I want to hug him. His essay was typical of Jesse; looking at something from every angle, not seeing it as a gripe or problem but a variety of challenges that face us as an industry or movement. He then went on to suggest some ideas, solutions and alternatives. To me it was an incredibly positive thing to do and felt like a call to arms, this thing we're part of is wonderful, and we all need to work together on strengthening it. There's been a lot of grumbling lately on social media from a few artists, who are seeing other artists rise to prominence and I think there's a bit of jealousy going on... getting a little too protective over what they see as "their thing" and it's a negativity that is both unnecessary and unproductive. I always try to look for positive solutions; if you feel someone's work is a little too like your own, refine your style even more. Make it so unique and inventive that it becomes impossible to copy. Improve upon yourself and don't use up your energy trying to pull somebody else down.

Me: I know better than to hit a wall so I won't ask about the Arcane Divination production or progress but if you were to create a companion piece, a mage/wizard type, to Skullhead Samurai, would it be a broody necromancer, a grumpy shapeshifting druid, or a smug and annoying pyromancer? How bout a sorceror who has partially given up magical latency for technological augmentation? What exactly is this world that you have envisioned?

JPK: Yeah, there's nothing I could give up now about the Arcane Divination series, except that I have seen all the designs and this series is a game-changer! Ha, the smug and annoying pyromania - that's a bit leading, isn't it?! Druids are totally my thing, and there's a rich history of the druids andtheir associated legends here in Britain. He'd also definitely be grumpy though probably wearing garlands of flowers and herbs. The world I haver is a little like ours, except there's only two huge continents with the different societies spread out across them, divided by mountain ranges, gigantic lakes and forests and sheer distance. In this world, magic and science blend and have almost equal power. Death itself can be overcome by spells and magic runes.
I really love this custom
Me: Since this is a pop cultural convention, I have to ask: Autobots or Decepticons? Star Trek or Star Wars? Game of Thrones or The Walking Dead? Amongst all of these, name a favourite character and why. The boy with no name demands to know. 

JPK: Autobots; they always had the best disguises. Star Wars! Without a doubt, it's been a constant part of my life. Game of Thrones, the other series does the impossible and makes zombies seem dull.

Amongst all of them, or a character for each? I'll give one for each, then decide on a favourite overall. 

Transformers; Grimlock. He was just brilliant; impossibly strong, direct and no nonsense. There was also a storyline in the old Marvel Transformers comics with a shot of him cleaving Megatron in half with his sword.

Star Wars; I always loved the Bounty Hunters from Star Wars; Dengar had really interesting armour and just looked gnarly, but it was Zuckuss who I like the best. He's sort of a sensitive soul who'd kind of spiritual, a calm Force-user who's job it is to hunt down and kill people. He also looks badass!

Game of Thrones; Oh man, there are too many favourites! Cersei, The Mountain, The Hound, Varys, Tyrion... but I have a massive soft spot for Tormund Giantsbane. A bit like bearded Grimlock; strong, really to fight, direct and with a massive sword.. in fact, is he just the ginger equivalent?!

Overall I think Tormund is my absolute favourite and I'd love to meet Kristofer Hivju who plays him.


Me: Any last kind words for fans waiting in Singapore? Any fun teasers or reveals? We need fuel to sustain the winter.

JPK: I can't wait to get there and meet so many people I already know online, and meet new people too. There might be a reveal coming up at the convention... and I'll also have plenty of customs available on my booth, as well as the debut of my original Atmosphere Teletubbies sculpted set. Thanks!
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I would certainly want to thank JPK for this most wondrous exchange. It was engaging, and when I met him during the media preview, he was equally stimulating. Singapore, get ready for his monochromatic customs tomorrow!

First posted to Spanky!


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