Kjelshus Collins aka ‘Killajayzeus’ aka ‘Howaitogoburin’ is an American multidisciplinary artist who came to our attention thanks to his amazingly unique sculpts. From there we quickly found Kjelshus’ other work in the mediums of print, painting, ceramics and sketching. All imbued with Kjelshus’ unique eye, love of the absurd, pop culture, beautiful lines and dada-esque craftsmanship.
(Picture below of Kjelshus’ just released soft vinyl figure – the Paleonaut)
With Kjelshus having recently released his debut soft vinyl, and much more always in the works, now is a great time to get to know the man and his art, by reading the Art Talk interview below…
Basics/Getting to Know
Name + D.O.B?
City, State n Country you currently call home?
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA
City, State n Country you’re from?
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA
(Pictures below of some art by Kjelshus)
Describe a memory from some stages of yr life basically trying to piece together your pivotal moments. Concerts, art, action-figures, romance, school, crime… ANYTHING man!
Sure. I can think of a few….
One afternoon a few years ago, I was working with a more established artist and he was talking about how he was going to fund some toy production back in the day, some of his own designs from when he was a child. I started thinking about portraits I made in college, and then I started thinking of some pink resin bootleg toys I saw in a local record store in 2005 by this interesting guy from NYC.
So, after some thinking and encouragement, I picked up where I left off in college with making art toys, along with cutting prints. I mention this because it was a combination of pivotal moments that came together in this random conversation with this artist—and that changed things for me.
* age 5 – beginnings:
My mother is a painter and my dad, brother Ari, and I traveled with her to art festivals and galleries in major U.S. cities to sell art.
Sometimes my parents would slip a piece of art that my brother or I made into their booth. I sold my first piece of art for $100 when I was five, to a nice lady at the Lakefront Festival of Art in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
My folks made it a point to take us to as many museums, art galleries, and zoos as possible whilst on the road. I saw the USA many times over.
(Picture below of Kjelshus as a kid)
* age 10 – continuations:
Toy collecting has always been very popular with me, but I started to really enjoy action figures when I was in elementary school. My brother and I would be crammed into motels on the road and we spent our time playing—instead of terrorizing the other artists.
We had many of the early Kenner Star Wars figures, so I liked the 3.75” scale and that meant GI Joe and similar series of toys.
I’d packed up all of my toy collection when I went to college. Years later it was like opening a time capsule, I had literal tears of joy at seeing my old friends.
(Picture below of Kjelshus in his teens)
* age 20 – young adult:
University life – I didn’t have the drive to go to college out of state — I’d traveled too much as kid. In my mind, logistically, Oklahoma was a great place to set up a base of operations due to many major interstates crossing through OKC.
I went to Oklahoma State University, an intense agriculture and engineering school. But I studied art. And I am very glad I did study art at this farm school. Despite how that seems to be somewhat of an oxymoron, this school had big MONEY. And the hidden gem was the art facilities out on the edge of town; foundry, forges, every type of kiln imaginable, a woodshop, metal shop, beautiful printing presses, ANYFUCKINGTHING could be made here.
It was here that I learned the alchemy that is ceramics, how to make moulds,pour bronze, and traditional printmaking. I also vigorously studied art history and aesthetics.
OSU is right in the middle of farmland, so our weekly routine was go to class, study, drink, and hit up punk rock shows in the two flanking cities. Or get loaded and watch cartoons. In that sense it was a typical American college town.
Most of my friends were creatives and we had our own drunken fun.
Art wise I loved printmaking and comic books, but I really wanted to sculpt. Even back then I wanted to make toys. One of my final pieces for sculpting was an action figure of myself. I think I took an old Wizard Magazine to my professor and showed him a tutorial on customizing action figures. He was pretty wild so he was with it. I customized and recast (most) of a Vince McMahon figure in real shitty hobby resin as myself in 2005.
The idea for the project was to make a run of these with my C.V. and portfolio on the back to present to whomever. I never made the edition, in retrospect, I probably should have.
* age 30 – fully formed:
At thirty I had been out of college for about 5-6 years, I was making money teaching, doing workshops, demonstrations and selling lots of prints. I gained representation in a very nice gallery and had moved in with a nice artist lady. We cloned each other twice.
Somewhere around this time I got all of my old toys out of storage and decorating my studio with my vintage toys and more recent designer/art toys. Opening those boxes brought back a flood of memories of customizing with my brother and attempting to make crude rudimentary moulds to recast GI Joes in our bedroom.
…And this is when I had the conversation with that artist I mentioned earlier.
Now I’m almost 35. Art wise I am working on printed editions, applying for festivals, completing commission work, writing for grants, making toys, and hustling.
Right now I have a teaching studio at a chartered prep school, a studio at home, and an office in an industrial area I share with two other artists. It’s called The Strange Exchange Trading Post. We stash our completed works there, meet clients, and have parties. It works out well; our studios are fucked up. Ink everywhere, beer bottles, half-finished shit, tools stacked arbitrarily, it’s really not the best place to meet a client.
(A recent picture of Kjelshus below)
Work first, then play.
I enjoy a plethora of different music-punk: CRASS, Wu-Tang Clan, Beastie Boys, Electric Wizard, Sleep, NIN, Slayer, Vivaldi…
Favorite TV show(s)?
Off the top of my head – Lost, Fringe, Walking Dead, Clone Wars, It’s Always Sunny, The Simpsons, Game of Thrones…
Favorite sport(s) + teams?
Off the top of my head – Alien, Star Wars, Conan the Barbarian (1982), Blade Runner, Wizards…
Favorite books and comics?
I have too many books, off the top of my head – Dune, Akira, Krazy Kat, A Song of Ice and Fire, Lord of the Rings, art history tomes…
Why the names ‘Killajayzeus’ and ‘Howaitogoburin’ for your online art presence?
Killajayzeus kind of sounds like my real name, and maybe Wu-Tang?
Howaitogoburin is an art history joke I came up with as a pseudonym in college for side projects. I studied Asian art history, especially East-West mutual influences. My professor told us a story that when the Europeans landed in Japan, the Japanese thought they were a type of white goblin due to their pale skin, colored hair, big noses, odd clothing, and smell. I thought that shit was hilarious.
Howaitogoburin is kind of Wasei-eigo for white goblin. So I use this for my toy stuff, really just for organization purposes and its funny. To me.
Favorite other artist(s)?
There are so many great artists around the globe. The world has become so populated and small at the same time. It seems every community has an enclave of working artists and I think that is just great.
Anyway, right now I really enjoy The Chicago Imagists, Takashi Murakami, David Healey, Kris Kuksi, Gregg Griffin, The Super Sucklord, Skinner, Richard Notkin, Nick Gazin, Basil Wolverton, Hieronymus Bosch, Frank Kozik and so on.
Worst aspect of the contemporary art-hustle?
The lack of interest or understanding many people have in art all together.
Busting ass to get a project done that you feel is an amazing accomplishment, and then no one gives a shit is pretty annoying. It doesn’t ever keep me from creating, but it is fairly lame.
(Pictures below of some prints by Kjelshus)
Best aspect of the contemporary art-hustle?
The people who drop cash on your work are doing it because they love what you made. I have a constant flow of new art and that is accomplished by these lovely people.
The return business is great and I love meeting new people who are excited about what they have. I often am sent pictures of my prints in frames or my toys on shelves and that’s fun.
In my head,I think the stuff disappears into a flat file, but realistically most people do not have those.
Do you consider what you are making to be ‘art’, ‘design’, re-hashed crap?
I know the 3 pillars of visual aesthetics are art, craft, and design. All three are just as important as the next, though they may serve different purposes at the time. Sometimes they overlap into something new.
People have been making art close to 40,000 years, so yes there is definitely some rehashed crap in everyone’s work. That is one reason why I study so much of it. You don’t want to recreate someone else’s idea though you will inevitably be influenced by some of it, and that is OK, it’s just culture, go with it.
Techniques on the other hand are obviously unavoidable. Therefore, when you experiment with different techniques to create a piece of art you have to accept that someone probably experimented the same way. For example, I read that Morgan Phillips aka ‘The Sucklord’ once tried to cast a Greedo toy out of a soap bar and melted crayon. Years later in my childhood bedroom, I tried to make a GI Joe out of Play-Doh and candle wax. Completely different people, place, and time, but similar experiment.
When and why did you first start making ‘art’ (drawings, paintings, anything)?
I remember making a painting with my mom and her friends on my first birthday. I believe that is my earliest memory.
Art is something that I was always around. I grew up in it. I understand it and why some people obsess over it.
I have always drawn or sculpted something.
(Pictures below of the Kouros ceramic figure from Kjelshus)
What did you draw and make as a pre-teen child?
I drew Star Wars and comic book characters; we also made some rudimentary dioramas for “action playsets”.
We once built a mud daub fort for our Britain’s miniatures (54mm), left town for Florida for a month to do art shows, came back, and it was still standing. Win for the little guys.
What did you draw and make as a teen?
Assemblage sculptures and abstract paintings because my mother was probably the one who taught me to paint.
Any pivotal artistic moment/influence?
Again, in Milwaukee, I was at the Lakefront Art Festival with my family, maybe 5th grade and there was a Jim Nutt exhibit at the museum. This was probably the first time I had seen an exhibition of this kind of art. I had no idea who the Chicago Imagists were; my mother exposed us to the Old Masters mostly.
I remember being appalled and intrigued at the same time. This was also right around the time MTV aired Liquid Television late at night, which I would watch in hotel rooms whilst on the road. It was a time of glorious visual bombardment.
Why + when did you decide to go in on the art hustle?
I had thought about pursuing science in college, anthropology/archaeology to be exact. I did study these things, I went to Egypt and Jordan for a dig, but I just could not get away from art.
I loved being in studio and I loved researching art history which works with archaeology quite well. I just made it a mission to work in the arts in some capacity. So far so good.
(Pictures below of the Planet Asia Freighter Sushi resin from Kjelshus)
Describe the process of producing your art…
* Your sketches and illustrations?
My sketchbook is a combination of crude doodles and esoteric scribblings. This all eventually solidifies into a cohesive idea, which I sit on for a minute while I figure out how to tackle the process.
Quite a bit of work is done in my head and little scraps of paper I find in my pockets.
Sometimes I work out things in my sleep.
* Your paintings?
If I do a painting, I do a rough contour and really just let it evolve as I go.
I am partially colorblind so I always start out with primary colors and build up from there. When they start mixing is when I cannot tell which is which.
I don’t create paintings that often. I do enjoy watercolor though, and recently illustrated a children’s book.
* Your prints – such as wood and lino-cuts?
I prefer to use battleship grey linoleum when cutting a block.
I think wood is great but sometimes I don’t want to see the woodgrain in my image. What I really like about the process of block printing is the cuts themselves. In this regard the German Expressionist printmakers influence me. I want the textures that my gouges make to speak for themselves.
Most of my subject matter is humorous with real subtle social commentary, almost non-existent, but it is in there straddling the fence between fine art and lowbrow. I also utilize other methods of printing such as intaglio, lithography, serigraphy, and recently I learned about antiquated photographic methods to produce an image on different substrates.
Describe the process of producing your resin toys? – from original sculpt, molding, production, to finally holding that sweet sweet finished product in your hands… (dot point all o.k.)
I think kit bashing and recasting is great fun, I have done a few of those, but I would rather sculpt my own design and make an edition of that.
There are many artisans who do great “bootleg” toys, I will for the most part, leave that to them…
I begin by doing a few sketches; maybe look at some reference materials then I begin to sculpt out of polymer clays. Polymer clay is great due to the rapid firing time and strength.
After the models are sculpted, smoothed, and fired, the tedious parts begins:
I add sprues and venting then begin to build the mold – I have been using leftover foam core and a glue gun, pretty standard.
Dump silicone into the mold, put mold into pressure tank, let cure, demold.
Pour the resin, place mold back in the tank, let cure, demold, clean the figure up, and repeat about twenty five times.
I like the initial sculpting and painting steps the best. It is Zen, I can lose myself in the process and block out everything.
Finally, in the end, I put the toys in whatever package I come up with and feel good.
Another thing done and accomplished.
(Pictures below of some resin art toys by Kjelshus)
Digital Vs Hand sculpting – what wins and why?
It’s all up to the collector I think.
Personally, I like hand building, but I wouldn’t be opposed to designing something digitally.
I think some people really like the smooth geometric look of some toys while others enjoy the organic textures of hand sculpted toys. I love the textures on the sofubi pieces coming out of Japan, also when I think of the toys that I liked as a kid I know they were all designed by hand.
I don’t know if there is a clear winner here. I’ll probably keep doing things by hand as long as I can.
(Pictures below of a large sculptural work by Kjelshus)
Are art-toys for the kids?
This really depends on the kid. My folks actually gave us handmade toys from artists they knew and we played with them carefully and shelved them. They still exist.
Some kids would have set all that on fire. I never did that kind of shit with my toys. Sure I shot the fuck out of Green Army Men with my Red Rider, but I never subjected Cobra Commander to immolation or anything. Not my thing, I always saw my toys as objet d’art, hence their continued existence in my studio.
Is the rise of ‘art’ toys an indication of the changing nature of ‘art’? OR just a bunch of nerds with too much $$$ and time?
I would say it is just an evolution of contemporary aesthetics.
I don’t see folk stopping their worship at the Altar of the Abstract Sublime, but that kind of work is not for everyone. Boutique toys on the other hand allow the younger modern collector to find a piece that they can relate to and afford. These things are essentially small sculptures even if they are in the form of what would be considered a toy.
Whatever you want to call it, Pop Art, 21st century craft, toy making, whatever, it is still an objet d’art that I can collect for a reasonable price and enjoy in my home or office.
Thoughts on the rise of resin as an artistic medium?
Resin is neat. It is cheap, quick, and consistent. I think it is great that is has been taken out of the garage and into the studio. A material that was once mostly used by hobbyists to being sold in galleries. Can’t beat that. And if you are in the art of multiples business, it will always be cheaper than bronze.
(Picture below of some carded resin art toys by Kjelshus)
What role did toys play in your childhood?
Toys are essentially our first friends and teachers. My toys took us on adventures through time and space. A lot of times they were someone to talk to when we were little. I believe this is in part why I still have most of them. Shitty thing to throw your friends away.
Top 3 toys you own and why? – Please include pics!
(*) Tomy Omnibot
I love the design of this on top of my affection for vintage personal robots.
I remember the commercials for this toy, I always wanted it but it was crazy expensive back in the day.
I scored a complete ‘bot at a thrift store a few years ago for fifty bucks.
(Picture below of Kjelshus’ ‘Tomy’ Omnibot toy – released in the mid 1980’s)
(*) Vintage Kenner Rancor
This was a guy that got played with till he fell apart.
At some point, some years after it had been discontinued in the dark ages, my parents and I literally scoured the country side going to antique shops and thrift stores (which are a big thing in Oklahoma) to find another Rancor. We did and I still have this one. Complete.
(Picture below of Kjelshus’ ‘Kenner’ Rancor toy – released in 1983)
(*) Skinner x Healeymade Mother v.1
I recently got one of these for Christmas. I really enjoy both of these fellows.
I remember when I first saw this piece and how it made me excited. Just one of those things I am glad exists.
Skinner’s use of color, line, humor, and the grotesque gets to me.
Healey is a great craftsman and I love the esotericism of his toys. I once visited his studio in NYC. He is also very enjoyable person to talk to.
Odds n Ends
Which 1990’s era cartoon, would you most like to see in a tribute sex toy, and why?
I always liked the Marshmallow Man when I was a kid. I still think it’s a fun design. Like the Pillsbury Dough Boy and Bibendum mashed together.
Marshmallow Girl as a voluptuous sex object has a good ring to it.
(Picture below of Kjelshus’ Marshmallow Man from ‘Ghostbusters’ tribute female-sex-object)
Who would win in a fight and why: Salvador Dali Vs. Pablo Picasso?
I think Sal would eat Pabs; according to some books I have read about Dali, he was somewhat voreish.
I need to find that book…
(Picture below of the battle in all it’s violent beauty!)
Please describe your experiences growing up in America?
America is extremely diverse and I got to experience a variety of different cultures growing up.
As I stated, I grew up driving around the United States with my family and got to hang out with a bunch of artists and collectors.Not that everything was perfect, there have always been some parts of America that you don’t want to break down in at night.
My old man was a Marine and usually wilder than most we encountered. I vaguely remember being in a traffic jam in Miami and some dude walking by reached into the car to grab my mom’s purse, I think my dad was going to rip his arm off through the window. Shit like that is bound to happen when you are hitting so many cities at once.
For the most part we encountered great folk and ate the local foods, went to fun parties, saw the sites, etc. I believe the traveling made me more understanding of people.
Who was your 1st crush and why?
I’ll go with a celebrity. I think maybe Ariana Richards that played the Lex in Jurassic Park. I was 10 or 11 when that movie came out.
I don’t know why, but I thought she was cute. She was in Tremors too, that’s a pretty fun movie.
(Photo below of Kjelshus’ first crush, Ariana Richards.)
Does sex change everything?
Only if you let it.
Please describe your latest dream in detail…
This is just a dream I remember:
I often visit a city. There are different districts and homes I walk to. It is a grand metropolis, sometimes it is scary and sometimes it is glorious.
I was sitting in a solarium that was attached to a Victorian home; I was playing cards with some people I didn’t know. It was night. And zombie like creatures were banging on the windows. The other card players just sat there and continued the game. I was bugging out. But they reassured me nothing could happen and offered me wine. In their district, this happened sometimes and they were used to it.
Some folk came down the stairs, were laughing about something, and had some wine. The game continued with these zombie things growling and licking the windows of the solarium…
Of everything you have done what would you most like to be remembered for and why?
I suppose my art would be nice, but maybe some of the children I have taught will remember me, or some of the other artists I have helped with their endeavors.
Time will tell.
Drugs – waste of time or gateway to the universe?
If it grows from the ground and raw like coffee totally a gateway to the universe.
All the other shit is a wasteful brain damaging money suck pit.
Please describe what you think the American Psyche/Zeitgeist is today?
Temporarily divided by political nonsense.
I am an optimist so I see things tapering off eventually. Most people want to work, feed their families, have a home, and find time to relax.
The political parties that cannot find a middle ground for the better good will devour each other and people will grow tired of the chaos.
Things change with time and patience. Throw in some diligence and positive attitude and everything will be OK.
Any collaborations on the horizon?
I just need to touch base with those people probably.
Any major projects you want to hype?
Right now, I have been commissioned to cut a linoleum plate to print an insert for an experimental record by KHG Interserve, an underground musician/toymaker/artist from the U.S.
I am also having a vinyl toy/figure made through 3 Coconut Monkey. I call it the Paleonaut. Think Atlantis, ancient astronauts, and fossils. The packaging is going to be designed by my good friend and artist Sean Vali.
(Pictures below of some process sketches, header and the finished product for Kjelshus’ just released Paleonaut soft vinyl figure)
- Kjelshus Collins – Kasum Comtemporary Gallery Site
- Kjelshus Collins – flickr
- Kjelshus Collins – Facebook
- Kjelshus Collins – Instagram
- Kjelshus Collins – Online Store