Own a KAWS This Holiday Season!

December 12, 2019

Currently among the most popular artists on the world, Brian Donnelly aka KAWS is best known for his odd-looking characters featured on paintings, sculptures, T-shirts, and other merchandise. Under the apparent influence of Pop Masters such as Tom Wesselmann and Claes Oldenburg, legendary street art pioneers Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat, as well as comic books and cartoons, KAWS managed to come to his own style governed by simplicity and wit.

KAWS started as a street artist tagging walls in New Jersey and Manhattan. Quickly he developed a signature style that involved cartoon-like figures. He studied illustration at the School of Visual Arts in New York and worked as a background painter on animated series such as Disney’s 101 Dalmatians.

The artist became known for reshaping or rather subverting iconic cartoon heroes while exploring the universal cultural value of the characters, and disrupting the division between high and low art. KAWS once emphasized his early stage of career as a graffiti artist:

When I was doing graffiti, my whole thought was - I just want to exist. I want to exist with this visual language in the world… It meant nothing to me to make paintings if I wasn’t reaching people.

The Rise To Fame

In 1999, KAWS was approached by the cult toy and streetwear brand Bounty Hunter, and that is how he produced his first toy, the now famous COMPANION; an edition of five hundred toys sold out almost immediately which made KAWS a notable burgeoning figure.

In the early 2000s, the artist launched his own fashion brand, Original Fake, and started collaborating with numerous famous streetwear labels, including Supreme and Bathing Ape. In 2008 KAWS even designed the cover for Kanye West’s celebrated album 808s & Heartbreak, and more recently he has designed his own pair of Nike Air Jordans. In 2012, a KAWS COMPANION balloon featuring the iconic character with its XX eyes covered by large gloved hands was seen floating down the streets of Manhattan during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

KAWS - The Most Popular Artist On The World

Throughout the years, KAWS' successful collaborations expanded - he worked with the Campana brothers on a range of furniture covered in plush toys, shown at Art Basel Miami and immediately purchased by Travis Scott and Kylie Jenner. He also worked with the creative director of Uniqlo’s LifeWear UT line NIGO and released a collection for a Japanese brand inspired by Sesame Street characters on a collection of T-shirts, sweatshirts, hoodies, and toys.

Although the artist was successful already in the early 2000s, the media claim that the value of his work has doubled since 2017 from $42,272 to $82,063, and interestingly so five of his pieces were sold for more than $1 million in 2018 in auctions. In March 2019, an inflatable version of KAWS’ COMPANION was installed in Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour during Art Basel indicating his outstanding fame and superstar status.

KAWS’s insane social media success is unprecedented with over 900,000 posts marked under the hashtag #kaws on Instagram. The specialists suggest that the reason for such a popularity is his catchy aesthetic that us constantly reproduced online, as well as his street art origins.

To mark the artist's omnipresence, we selected five outstanding KAWS works that you can add to your collection as we speak.

Featured image: KAWS - No Reply. All images courtesy their respective galleries.

Small Lie (Grey)

Part of KAWS’s signature Companion series, Small Lie features a Pinocchio-inspired figure found in a depressive state with its head down as if feeling ashamed. The artist initially launched the character in 2016 at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, as a large-scale version made of African hardwood. The year after, he produced smaller versions in grey, black and brown color in collaboration with Japan's Medicom Toy.

See more info about the work here.

Dior BFF Plush Pink and Black

The Dior BFF Plush Pink and Black toys were made in 2018 in partnership with Kim Jones who launched his first collection for Dior Homme. For this occasion, a 22-foot-tall sculpture of KAWS’s signature character covered with thousands of pink roses was installed for Dior’s show at Paris Fashion Week with models carrying plush toy versions of the figure while walking the catwalk. The toys were given as gifts for guests of the runway show and celebrities like Naomi Campbell, Victoria Beckham, and Kim Kardashian went crazy for them, turning them into a viral hit.

The following year, KAWS and Dior produced two limited-edition versions of these toys - a black character in a denim jacket and a pink character in a black suit; those were immediately sold out while the collaboration between KAWS and Dior expanded and included other wearable items and accessories.

See more info about the work here.

Four Foot Companion Set Black

These two pieces also belong to Companion series; the difference here is that the dissected X eyed character is entirely painted black and half of his body is stripped so we can see his insides. By revealing (half of) the body, KAWS takes a darker humorous stance towards the dominating character. The other figure in the set remains intact.

See more info about the work here.

No Reply

It seems that No Reply consists of sequences belonging to different cartoons and reflects KAWS’s lasting fascination with classic cartoons, including SpongeBob SquarePants, Garfield, and The Simpsons. This composition also reveals the artist's ability to narrate through images creating a funny, but also an engaged commentary regarding the lack of ability to communicate.

See more info about the work here.

Lost Time, Alone Again, Far, Far Down

Lost Time, Alone Again, Far, Far Down is more abstract than other KAWS’s works, and it consists of three images featuring elements with disrupted shapes that seem to refer to cartoon characters. However, since the composition is obscured, it is not clear who they are referencing. Although formally different, Lost Time, Alone Again, Far, Far Down stands as a nice example of KAWS’s signature style due to the presence of vibrant colors.

See more info about the work here.

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