MAN-E-FEATURE// Exclusive interview with Jon Paul Kaiser…

Regarded as one of the art toy scene’s most talented artists, Jon Paul Kaiser’s distinct black and white aesthetic has lead to huge success in both the custom and production toy communities. With a constant flow of jaw-dropping custom pieces, an extensive collection of Toy2R production figures, and the recently released Fatcap Series 3 Spaceman, JPK shows no sign of letting up in 2012…

We managed to prize Jon away from the workbench for a minute to talk about how he got into the scene, his influences, and the numerous projects he has lined up for this year (including the infamous Project X!)…

How did you stumble upon the art toy scene? Were you a collector before you started customising?

That’s all thanks to Paul from Porlzilla – I’d been a collector of toys (Star Wars, Transformers, Mcfarlane etc) and we got introduced to each other by a DJ friend of ours (Kid Keith from Great Scott). We started talking about design and the next day he sent me a link to Vinylpulse’s coverage of the design and development of one of their figures (I think it was El Panda.. might have been Tequila) and that was it; hooked. Weirdly I went straight into trying to make art toys before collecting them, that’s where the Ozzel came from. Porl drew him, I sculpted him up, then we went along to the local college who helped us make the first molds for him and pretty soon we were casting in his kitchen.

Your toys are instantly recognisable through their strong graphic black and white aesthetic, do you find limiting your colour palette helps to focus the design, or is there another explanation to your approach?

It definitely helps focus the design. The Black & White aesthetic comes from a few different approaches; The bold and stark contrast really makes the design stand out, especially if it’s in a group shot with other customs that have multiple colours. If it’s a good design it shouldn’t need colour to work, and it’s that idea taken to the extreme. It’s also partially from the way characters in film noir look. They’re imposing and Significant with the strong, over-exposed light and lush, deep shadows.

From pirates to Star Wars, your work has always covered a diverse range of themes, beautifully unified by your unique style. Apart from the obvious, who or what has has influenced your approach to both custom and production art toys, in particular the latest Whispering Corsair series from Toy2R?

My influences come from a range of places, some of them not that obvious. By day I’m a menswear designer and I follow a lot of trend & style blogs (you’d never guess by the way I dress) and I take inspiration from fashion collections, trends that are emerging like the resurgance of classic patterns such as houndstooth & tweed. Others from conversations I have with friends, and particularly my wife. Several of the ‘rules’ I work to are from my college & university tutors, they’re only simple things but my work remains unique, or at least identifiable, because I try to adhere to them.

You’ve gained a huge following through your breathtaking array of customs, but the last year has seen a number of production releases from Toy2R, and recently Kidrobot. How has the design process differed? Have you still had the same level of control? The extensive sculpting involved in your recent Captain Sturnbrau Mini Qee would suggest that companies such as Toy2R are willing to represent artist’s designs more faithfully than in the past- would you tend to agree?

The design process is only slightly different; working with Toy2R has made me aware of some of the restrictions of the production process and I keep these in mind when designing a sculpted part or where a print lies.

The companies I’ve worked with have given me a great deal of control, Toy2R’s development of Captain Sturnbrau is a great example of this; if you look at my first design of that figure, it’s exactly the same as the finished product. We went through several stages of sculpts, paint apps and corrections to get it right, and I was encouraged by Kevin to speak up if there was anything I wasn’t happy about. They wanted the product to be as good as it possibly could be, and I think it’s turned out perfectly!

I’m not sure I would agree that companies and more willing to take on new sculpts when it comes to toys. In the earlier days when the scene was beginning to flourish there seems to have been a lot more experimentation and a wider variety of sculpts and platforms. Many to still come through now but I think Platforms are becoming more staple in the field.

Your Ozzel collaboration with Paul Burke is one of the scene’s most sought after toys, helping to kickstart the current trend of artist produced runs. Apart from your upcoming collaboration with UME and Run DMB, would you ever consider working on another self-produced resin toy?

Is it really? I had no idea!! I’m skeptical of doing anything in resin myself, mainly because I spent a lot of time trying to master it and failing quite badly – just getting a flashback of a time I really mixed up my ingredients and nearly set the house on fire!

My wife was… furious..

Rich (umetoys) really knows what he’s doing when it comes to casting, so I’m happy to let him take care of that part.

About that UME x Run DMB collaboration… How did it (Project X) come about? And what involvement in it do you have?

We all met up at the Icons Show, curated by The Hang Gang in Leeds late last October, I’d already met Rich at NYCC earlier that month. We spoke about some of David’s characters over email and twitter, he developed them and Rich made a sculpt. Hopefully there’ll be a couple of similar characters so we can make them a set (and I’ll get a chance to sculpt). All three of us will be painting some of them up, perhaps for a show..?

Unlike many customisers, you’ve never tied yourself down to one particular platform, working with toys as diverse as Coarsetoys’ Paws, Luke Cheu’s Mecha Sad Bear, Futura’s Nosferatu, and of course Kidrobot’s Munny- which has been your favourite to work with?

Mini-Munnys and the new Toyer Mini-Qee are great to work with;- they’re straightforward, have character of their own and their articulation allows you to move limbs etc without scratching the paintwork. I’ve done a couple of Kathie Olivas’ Scavengers and they were great to paint as well.

What can we expect from JPK in 2012? We’ve heard numerous rumours of a follow up to your Captain America Mini Qee (NYCC 2011) in the form of the Avengers set, will these get a production run?

I have a hell of a lot lined up for 2012! I thought 2011 was as good as it could get, but very quickly my schedule has filled up nicely with some great projects and releases! I am indeed working on a custom set of the Avengers, There’s nothing set in stone at the moment, but I believe Marvel will be shown them, so who knows?

Captain Sturnbrau makes his debut proper this year, as well as a fantastic variant, there’s more due from Toy2R and Kidrobot, hopefully some apparel, a few shows, NYCC again (I loved it last year and felt so welcome) and I’m also working on “The Big Project” which is ambitious to the point of being ridiculous and that’s all I’m saying about that for now…

JPK on Flickr

JPK on Twitter

Published by Niall Anderson

Owner of ShinGangu, a UK boutique toy brand specialising in self-produced Japanese soft and keshi toys...

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