While the Japanese term kaijū (“strange beasts”) was coined to classify the plethora of monster-centric movies that erupted forth in the wake of 1954’s original Godzilla film, the word would also become synonymous with the horde of toys spawned around the rubber suit menaces from these productions. But, in the last dozen years or so, it has also come to denote works within the designer toy movement that are inspired by the vintage creatures from Japan. And for those that appreciate these ‘strange beast’ derived art pieces, Paul Copeland will be almost certainly recognized as one of the form’s premiere creators, though he’s better known by his artistic alias, either spelled as one word (Paulkaiju) or two (Paul Kaiju). As an almost perfect primer for the uninitiated, Copeland’s Ring of Fire solo exhibition may not be a retrospective but it does include several of his classic Paulkaiju forms alongside new creations and evolutions.

Paulkaiju’s Ring of Fire Exhibition Overview

Though 2009 saw the first Paulkaiju designed form debut in vinyl, the Super7 produced Partyball, it wasn’t until the following year that his sculpting skills would be employed for a vinyl cast creation, the Boss Carrion. Depicting a zombified elephant with a fish-headed posterior and a strange face ‘blooming’ forth from its right hand, Paulkaiju used three transparent renditions of this form as the base for his Electric Boss Carrion pieces. With each one being partially hand-painted and partially untouched, the metallic tinsel ‘guts’ inside them granting a fullness to the body while also obscuring the wiring for the LEDs in these unique works. And while it’s fantastic to see Paulkaiju revisit his classic forms in painted versions like this, there’s something special about witnessing him evolve past creations, as he does with the hand-painted edition of five Scummy Joe pieces as well as the three uniquely painted Dualbat creations. Scummy Joe is a true mingling of points within Paulkaiju’s career, using the body from 2011’s hair-lipped alien Salamander Joe and the recently debuted alternate head with a mummified appearance, while the Dual Bat is a double-headed interpretation of his classic Mockbat form (see article here). And even though his Chimera design only debuted last year, an evolution and experimentation can already be witnessed in these pieces as well: the green Seabiscut Chimera Biterfish merging the artist’s Biter Fish (2015) creation into the body as well as using the ‘Dual Impaler’ alternate armored unicorn heads with doll hair, while the purple and pink Storybook Chimerabiter utilizes his doll-like Biterman heads that were introduced in 2010.
Representing his long-standing friendship with gallery owner and fellow artist Rich Montanari Jr, who creates works as Mutant Vinyl Hardcore, Paulkaiju augmented five of Montanari’s phallic-headed Krod figures and three of their Sludge Kraken collaborations. Additionally, Paulkaiju merged two of their individual creations, the body of his own Chimera with Montanari’s Flying Freak head, creating a trio of menacing monstrosities. With the two purplish hued ones each titled Four Legged Freak and differentiated strictly by their tails, one having the ‘mace’ tip while the other is the ‘idol hand’ version, the greenish rendition of this form was titled Ate Ball and it included a Pumcat, or pumpkin cat, extra.
Following the 2015 debut of the Sludge Kraken collaboration, Paulkaiju evolved his head sculpt component into its own form in 2016 titled the Hyper Kraken, which came alongside a “Larval Stage Kraken” known simply as the Polyp. These amphibious invaders with a possibly alien origin appeared in a hand-painted edition of ten for Ring of Fire, featuring a variety of glass eye inserts used in them. But nestled in the midst of these Hyper Kraken pieces was a unique rendition of Paulkaiju’s 2015 Gobo King form, a massive upscaling of the artist’s Gobocon creation from 2014’s Gobo Gang series. Described in that initial version as “a zombie tank warrior from ‘Earth time of Apocalypse’ with a heart of gold”, this Electric Goboking features LED inserts to illuminate its heart as well as its eyes and Gatling gun.
For Paulkaiju’s final pieces in his Ring of Fire exhibition, there was a hand-painted edition of five Electric Milky Chimera, which had LED inserts illuminating their eyes, tails, and bellies, as well as six Patchwork Bats, uniquely decorated Mockbat figures that were each accompanied by a Hellmock in ‘Beastwalker’ mode.

Mutant Vinyl Hardcore × Paulkaiju at Ring of Fire

But there was one final contribution to Ring of Fire, a two figure set hand-painted by Montanari under his Mutant Vinyl Hardcore guise. Titled Death Box, these hand-painted sets were limited to an edition of 4 numbered copies plus 1 artist proof, which is the one that was displayed. The smaller figure is comprised of Montanari’s own Doji San creation’s body with Paulkaiju’s devilish Chimera head atop it, with its larger companion being the Chimera body featuring a pair of Montanari’s Sludge Figher heads. Painted in a striking and bold black, red, and white scheme, these were contained within wood boxes with metal trim that had a red stain over the grain and distressed logos on them.

Ring of Fire was a one-day only exhibition held on September 2nd, 2017 at Death’s Vault Gallery’s physical location (315 Peck St., Building 5, Studio H, New Haven, CT 06512).

For more information on Paulkaiju:
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