Alex Dinsdale is an Australian artist, designer, toy maker and the man behind ‘Kayo Co’ – a brand Alex runs to release his many art and design objects, such as traditional art, prints, pins and importantly, designer toys!
Alex’s creations draw from his love of pop culture, Japan, toys, outsider music, and his finely tuned sense of humour.
When asked to pinpoint were his love for all things Japanese originated, Alex mentions the huge impact that growing up as a child with a Japanese neighbour had on him. With Alex elaborating;
“One of my best friends in Primary school was Japanese… His house was full of Japanese toys, they had a Japanese NES. He and his brothers used to watch Ultraman in Japanese on tapes the family sent over from Japan.
His Uncle worked for McDonalds in Japan and would send over the toys and they were just incredible. Compared to what we had at the time they were next level in design and quality. We had crappy little plastic statues of McDonalds characters and shitty plastic hats in our happy meals and they were getting these amazing Transformers and pens with little cars that shot out the end when you clicked them.
He gave me some of these toys and I used to imagine Japan was this magical land of amazing toys.
It turned out that wasn’t too far from the truth, but it sparked a lifelong obsession with Japanese toys.“
With Alex a key player in the ever growing Australian designer toy scene, and currently working on a slew of soon to be released projects – we thought now was the perfect time to ask him some questions about life, growing up in Australia, the designer toy hustle, music, and a whole lot more!
Read it all in the interview below…
Name + D.O.B?
City, State and Country you currently call home?
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.
City, State and Country you’re from?
Please describe some memories from key stages of your life: concerts, art, toys, romance, hunting, school, politics, crime, religion… ANYTHING really!
* Age 5 – beginnings:
I was born in the western suburbs of Sydney, along with 10% of Australians and 85% of European backpackers.
I don’t have a lot of memories, we moved out when I was about 5.
* Age 10 – continuations:
Moved to the Southern Highlands of NSW.
I spent most of my spare time riding my BMX around the town, hanging out with friends, playing computer games, listening to my Dad’s records and watching cartoons.
* Age 15 – getting serious:
Around 12 I got a guitar and an amp and by 15 or so I was pretty seriously into music. My parents had made me take piano lessons for years, but it didn’t click until I picked up the guitar.
Around the same time we relocated to regional Victoria, around the Macedon ranges area. Victorian people said funny things like ‘grouse’ and played this weird football I didn’t understand at all, but aside from that it was pretty similar to the southern highlands of NSW.
* Age 20 – young adult:
By this stage I moved to Melbourne to go to University. I was in full student mode – share house living, part time work, playing around in bands, partying, basically everything but studying.
I also met my future wife.
* Age 25 – adult mode:
I got married and we moved overseas for a few years. We wanted to go to the U.K. but we didn’t want to live in London so we ended up in Birmingham. It is a great city, it’s really overlooked. There is a thriving art scene and a really great underground / experimental music scene focused around this venue called the Custard Factory, which really is an old custard factory transformed into a sort of alternative arts precinct. Some of the best gigs of my life I saw at the Custard Factory. The Melvins, The Boredoms, Sunn o))), Acid Mothers Temple, Boris, The Jesus Lizard, Lightning Bolt… the list goes on!
Birmingham is literally the home of Heavy Metal. Both Black Sabbath and Napalm Death came from Birmingham, and the spirit of metal lives in the city to this day.
* Age 30 – fully formed:
We came back to Melbourne, and my first daughter was born around this time. I didn’t sleep a lot.
* Age 35 – meanderings:
I really switched focus from audio to visual arts. I had always done a bit here and there. I think I designed 90% of all the CD covers / band logos / posters for projects I’d been involved with!
I sculpted and made my first resin toy in 2016. It was a little octopus with an ice-cream cone for a hat. I painted them different ice-cream colours. I couldn’t believe I actually managed to do it and I was instantly hooked. I haven’t stopped since.
My second daughter was born in 2017 and I was juggling a lot at the time so I didn’t produce much for a stint there, but this year I stopped working to look after my kids full time, which has really ramped things up!
I’m also studying for a BA in Japanese, which is part of the reason why you can see so much Japanese influence in my work: it just subconsciously creeps in there!
I’m still pretty busy but I have freed up a lot of head space for doing art.
* Age 40 – middle age creeping:
Yes it is.
* Age 45 – middle age meanderings:
I imagine ill have some kind of bionic eyes or robot hands.
“In the worlds before Monkey, primal chaos reigned. Heaven is good. But the phoenix can fly only when its feathers are grown. The four worlds formed again and yet again, as endless aeons wheeled and passed.
Time and the pure essences of Heaven and the moisture of Earth, the powers of the sun and the moon all worked upon a certain rock, old as creation. And it became magically fertile. The first egg was named “Thought”. Tathagata Buddha, the Father Buddha, said, “With our thoughts, we make the world.”
Elemental forces caused the egg to hatch. From it then came a stone monkey. The nature of Monkey was irrepressible!”
Whilst we know you through your designer toy work – care to share with us the details of your other creative endeavors… if any?
Earlier this year I decided to combine all of my stuff under the Kayo.Co banner. You can now go to the website or Instagram and see all the stuff I’m working on in one spot. I have toys and art and stickers and pins…
I make a lot of pins inspired cult and genre film. Just things that amuse me, my friends and my family. Hopefully enough other people dig them too! There will be T-shirts and other stuff up there at some point too.
Art, Design, and Toy Questions
When and why did you first start making art of any type!?
Does scribbling on the wall as a toddler count? I think it does.
… and any pivotal artistic moment(s) / influence(s)?
I grew up part of this micro-generation between X and Millenials people are now calling us Xennials. Basically my childhood was analogue and a teen years were digital.
CD’s didn’t exist when I was a kid – I remember the first ones arriving in the local record store. But by the time I was 20, Napster and file sharing were killing CD sales.
I’ve always been happy, and I think a lot of people born around this time are the same, moving between the two worlds. I think it produces some interesting art.
I was also heavily into grunge as a teenager, and I think that punk / DIY attitude has stuck with me. I love the indie nature of this scene. I love the fact that people are taking these industrial production techniques and scaling them to work in their garages.
Please describe the process of producing your toys – from original idea, to preliminary design, sculpt, production, packaging and eventual release!?
It’s really all over the place. Sometimes it starts with a sketch on paper or a digital design. Sometimes I’ll just go straight for the sculpt.
I primarily use Sculpy when I’m working in the ‘real world’. Sometimes I’ll go straight in and digitally sculpt with no reference at all, I’ll just mess about until the idea comes together.
I have a couple of 3D printers in my garage-studio. They allow me to try things out and tweak them if I feel the need to. It’s still a lot of work after that point, to finish the printed pieces I use a few different techniques depending on what I’m going for and then a lot of sanding.
A. Lot. Of. Sanding.
Depending on the piece I’ll add further sculpting straight onto the printed piece. Details and things that the printer can’t do or can’t do well. Then the usual mould / cast / paint routine.
Worst aspect(s) of the designer toy hustle?
It’s a really expensive medium to work in. The materials, especially in Australia, are expensive. It’s also technically quite tricky.
It’s easy to waste a lot of money if you accidentally mess up the process by forgetting to use mold release, or mixing part A into Part A and standing around like a dope wondering why it won’t set. You can easily waste $50 by accidentally knocking over a bottle of resin or silicone.
Best aspect(s) of the designer toy hustle?
Following on from the previous answer; people only do this because they really love it. No one does this for fortune and glory! There is definitely a thrill when everything comes together and you have the toy realized.
Releasing a physical object into the world and having someone dig it is payment enough. (Money is also nice though, please buy things, my children need bread.)
Favorite other artist(s)?
My wife and I have a fairly decent collection of Kozyndan artworks.
I have a massive collection of John Zorn CDs and Records. He’s a New York Avant Garde Jazz guy that I’ve been into since I was a teenager.
Thoughts on the current state of the Australian designer toy scene?
Niche scenes in Australia all seem to suffer from the same issue. Australia is a huge place with a tiny population. If there is a relatively small amount of people doing a thing, and they are spread out all across the country and it’s near impossible to get them in a room together. I think this might be changing now, it feels like there is a momentum gathering. I hope so anyway.
There has been a couple of group shows recently and more coming before the end of the year.
Any major projects you want to hype?
I’m making new toys for said upcoming shows. These are going to include some ambitious features that I haven’t attempted before.
I’ll be in Sydney in November to show them off.
(Editor: Alex is talking about the ‘This is Not a Toy Scene’ series of shows, which are being presented by Cipta Croft-Cusworth of Indonesian toy company ‘Good Guys Never Win‘.)
If people wanted to work with you or buy something – how should they get in touch?
I am always keen for collaborations. If anyone wants to paint blanks of my toys or swap art or commission me, (always happy to do special colour-ways or details on request) get in touch.
Odds and Ends
What role did toys play in your childhood(s)?
I have always had a strong urge to collect things. I can never have just one of a set, I have to have them all. I have had to stop buying stuff recently for this reason.
I really loved trading cards as a kid. I have good memories of collecting Garbage Gang Kids. They are called Garbage Pail in the US but they are the same thing. I loved the art, I loved the anticipation of opening the packs, I loved ordering and counting them, I loved the hustle of trading for ones you needed.
One of my best friends in Primary school was Japanese. His parents barely spoke English, they owned the Japanese restaurant in the town I grew up in. His house was full of Japanese toys, they had a Japanese NES. He and his brothers used to watch Ultraman in Japanese on tapes the family sent over from Japan. His Uncle worked for McDonalds in Japan and would send over the toys and they were just incredible. Compared to what we had at the time they were next level in design and quality. We had crappy little plastic statues of McDonalds characters and shitty plastic hats in our happy meals and they were getting these amazing Transformers and pens with little cars that shot out the end when you clicked them. He gave me some of these toys and I used to imagine Japan was this magical land of amazing toys. It turned out that wasn’t too far from the truth, but it sparked a lifelong obsession with Japanese toys.
Drugs – waste of time or gateway to the universe?
Somewhere in between.
Please describe your latest dream in detail…
What do you think the Australian psyche / zeitgeist is today?
Australia is a big country. Melbourne is very different from Cairns and Perth, even Sydney…
I don’t think I can speak for the whole country, but you can get an idea by looking at who wins elections in this country.
Who was your 1st crush and why?
Linka from Captain Planet and Planeteers.
I wanted to call my dog Linka, but my family vetoed it. I loved her accent, her no bullshit attitude, the way she used to rip on the annoying American one that was always trying to hit on her.
I’m pretty sure, after the show ended, she went onto join Pussy Riot and she might be a political prisoner right now.
Does sex change everything?
If the end result is a baby then yes: big time.
What are the top 3 items you own?
I have this original Godzilla poster I bought at Nakano Broadway in Tokyo. I really like Godzilla.
I’m a total book nerd, I have way too many books. It’s a nightmare when I have to move house, but I really love all my books.
I recently bought this capsule station, it’s my newest best thing. I am making a series of handmade indie gachapon and I want to set this up at shows and exhibitions. I really love capsule toys.
In a battle between your two creations Robotiki Vs. Zenzilla – who would win in a fight and why?
[Please draw the battle in all its violent beauty!]
“If you meet Zenzilla on the road, kill him!”
-Ancient Zen wisdom (paraphrased)
Of everything you have done what would you most like to be remembered for and why?
I can honestly say, and this is super cheesy but, whatever: I want my kids to remember me as a good Dad.