Melrose Avenue was abuzz Saturday evening with anticipation for the opening of Paul Kaiju's "Paulyvinyl State of Mind" at Toy Art Gallery. The San Diego-based artist is a hot name on the designer-toy circuit, but this was his first solo show in Los Angeles. Collectors had been showing up at the store since that afternoon to secure tickets to purchase Kaiju's work. By 6:30 p.m., the line was thick, but the work was still kept largely under wraps. TAG's windows remained draped until the opening reception began a half-hour later.
Kaiju is not his original name -- it's based on the name for the group of Japanese monsters that have captivated movie audiences since the second half of the 20th century. Godzilla, Mothra and Rodan are all kaiju. In the toy world, kaiju remain popular subjects. Inspired by the frightening yet whimsical characters, artists produce their own figures made from vinyl, resin and other materials.
Kaiju, the artist, has been creating his figures for only a few years, but he's been a fan of big-screen monsters since childhood. He used to catch his dad watching Creature Features, old horror shows, on a small black-and-white TV back in Chicago, and those now-retro images stuck with him.
"I like to reel back to the basic simplicity of monster-suit designs by, say, Paul Blaisdell, who did Invasion of the Saucer Men," says Kaiju. "A lot of them were primitive-looking, but they had a big impact on me and I liked the style."
Kaiju used to work in the aerospace industry. While he had long wanted to pursue art, that proved to be difficult. "Jobs like that don't leave you a lot of time," he says. Eventually, though, he had a now-or-never moment.
He had visited Japan a couple times and was introduced to the toy scene there. He was intrigued by how monster figures had evolved since the 1960s and how the culture surrounding unlicensed toys had aided in that evolution. "You can kind of push boundaries, but still keep that same look," says Kaiju.
Inevitably, Japan's toy community helped launch Kaiju's second career. "They had faith in me and helped me produce toys," he says.
Now, Kaiju works on toys full-time. Sometimes he customizes blank figures from Japan. Other times, he sculpts his own characters. He'll also mash up his work with preexisting toys. "Paulyvinyl State of Mind" featured three Hellmock Racer pieces. Each one featured Kaiju's monster placed inside tiny, vintage race car toys.
Central to the TAG show was a massive version of Kaiju's Boss Carrion figure, a character who resembles an elephant with a fishhead on its hind end. "We wanted something big and cuddly," says Kaiju.
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The Boss Carrion statue is unusual in that it's both large and posable. Also, the baby in its hand is attached by a magnet. Kaiju used Monster Kolor paints for the project that give the piece a metallic glisten similar to custom car paint jobs.
Overall, pieces ranged from figures small enough to fit inside the palm of a hand to the size of a large action figure. Throughout the exhibition, monsters glowed in neon and metallic hues. Also spotted in the show were paintings and even a few prototypes for future toy lines. A large figure of Unchiman -- "The Poop Monster," Kaiju says-- is anticipated for release as a vinyl toy this summer.