An artist straddling high art, pop culture and his own signature style, KAWS has been experiencing the meteoric rise in the past few years. Wherever it pops up around the world, KAWS' art has been attracting thousands of people.
KAWS first emerged at the street and contemporary art scene in the late 1980s and early 1990s through stealing advertising posters by unlocking the glass panels at the bus stops and phone booths, adding his own graphics in acrylic paint, and returning them to their natural habitat. Over time, the artist had transitioned from this earlier graffiti career to creating highly-coveted limited edition prints, sculptures and toys that transform imagery from popular culture with his own unique twist. Following the extraordinary ascent, this celebrated graffiti maker, painter, illustrator, sculptor, toymaker, and product designer has become an arts world phenomenon of sorts. Moving beyond the sphere of the exclusive art market, KAWS managed to occupy a more complex global market.
Bearing many of the stylistic hallmarks of Pop Art, KAWS repeats iconic imagery is an attempt to make works universally understood, transcending both language and culture. He is famous for reworking many familiar television and cartoon icons into forms that draw on the tradition of abstract painting, such as characters from The Simpsons, the Michelin Man, the Smurfs, and even SpongeBob SquarePants. KAWS' COMPANION, the Mickey Mouse-inspired character with signature a skull-and-crossbones head, crossed eyes and white gloves, is certainly the artist's most iconic creation. The Christie's associate specialist Noah Davis described KAWS as omnivorous, adding that "no cartoon is safe from being consumed and turned into KAWS."
In the past year, the market for KAWS exploded, with his works generating a total of $33.8 million at auction in 2018 - a 113 percent increase from the previous year, and his average sale price nearly doubling, from $42,272 in sold work in 2017 to $82,063 last year. On November 15th, the artist's auction record was broken three times in a single night. However, the art advisor and publisher Josh Baer warns that it is that type of art where the collectors should be prepared "to take one or two zeroes off in 20 years" when they prepare to sell.
"It’s an interesting phenomenon that KAWS’ work can be a colossal sculpture or an art piece in museum, an art figure or an affordable t-shirt," says SK, the curator of AllRightsReserved. "He becomes a culture and connect with everyone."
As expected, the 2019 KAWS Hong Kong floating installation stirred quite a commotion, drawing large crowds to the site. Organized by AllRightsReserved, KAWS: HOLIDAY is the largest public sculpture by KAWS to date. SK comments: "Locating the artwork on the harbour is a big challenge for us this time; it involves lots of marine and technical parties. It was like an experiment for us and we make this happen after thousand of trials." Before Hong Kong, this impressive KAWS installation of COMPANION visited Seoul and Taipei. The artist is also the subject of a survey exhibition at the PMQ mall organized by the Hong Kong Contemporary Art Foundation and curated prominent Italian curator Germano Celant, the same man who coined the term Arte Povera, which will be on view through April 14, 2019.
A long-term partner of KAWS, AllRightsReserved is a Hong Kong-based creative studio established in 2003, consistently reaching out to wherever creativity occurs. The list of their projects includes a participatory art installation for CHANEL's Mademoiselle Privè exhibition, an art-performance mob featuring more than 10,000 Mr. Moncler 19-inch figurines around Hong Kong, and the world's largest Panda art charity project I AM HERE curated by Lawrence Argent, among others.
In May 2018, ARR fabricated KAWS first permanent outdoor bronze sculpture, SEEING/WATCHING, in Greater China Region, at the Changsha IFS complex’s grand opening, as well as curated a series of exhibitions by KAWS: KAWS:BFF in 2016, KAWS:CLEAN SLATE in 2015 and KAWS:Passing Through in 2010.
We bring you a list of impressive outdoors sculptures by KAWS, all realized with the help of AllRightsReserved.
Featured image: KAWS: HOLIDAY. Photo Credit: @harimaolee @AllRightsReserved @timothyma___.
After impressive installations in Seoul and Taipei, KAWS: HOLIDAY was installed in Victoria Harbour in Hong Kong. It was supposed to be on view until March 31st, 2019, coinciding with the annual Hong Kong Arts Month, but it was removed from the water two days early, due to poor weather conditions. The installation featured COMPANION, the artist's signature character, in a relaxed and reclined position, floating on his back, face turned up to the sky at the waterfront off Tamar Park. The installation, 37-meters-long, is the largest reclined sculptural endeavor by KAWS to date.
With this floating installation, KAWS hoped to connect people from around the world, encouraging residents and tourists to relax, slow down and enjoy. In a recent interview for TIME, KAWS explained:
I was thinking of all the tension in the world, and I wanted to create work that would make people think about relaxing. And there’s nothing more relaxing than lying on your back in water and looking up at the sky.
SK Lam, Creative Director and Curator of AllRightsReserved explained that it took eight months to coordinate the project.
The reclining COMPANION might look relaxed and laid back, but curating a project on Victoria Harbour has not been easy. I would like to thank all participating parties for their effort.
Visitors could view KAWS work up close at the Central section of Central and Western District Promenade or take the Ferris wheel where one can capture the iconic COMPANION’s “XX” eyes with an overview of the harbor.
Featured images: KAWS: HOLIDAY. Photo Credit: @harimaolee; KAWS: HOLIDAY. Photo Credit: @AllRightsReserved; KAWS: HOLIDAY. Photo Credit: @yk; KAWS: HOLIDAY. Photo Credit: @AllRightsReserved
Installed in May 2018 in Changsha, on the occasion of the opening of the new integrated flagship complex developed by the Wharf Group, KAWS SEEING/WATCHING was the first permanent outdoors bronze sculpture in Greater China Region. The installation marked the first joined appearance of his best known character COMPANION and the more recent BFF character sitting back to back in the Sculpture Garden of Changsha IFS and overlooking the city and Xiang River.
The eight-meter sculpture installed at the edge of the newly-completed Changsha IFS skyscraper in Hunan drew almost a million visitors to the complex in just the first week of opening. It was accompanied by a sprawling wall wrap at the top of the modern building that depicts an all-new composition by the artist as well as a limited edition set of collectibles and toys featuring these two figures.
Featured images: KAWS - SEEING/WATCHING. Courtesy AllRightsReserved.
The character BFF was first introduced in 2016 with the artist's large-scale sculpture debut in Bangkok, Thailand. Created in partnership with the mall Central Embassy, it was one of KAWS' largest sculptures to date, standing at 8-meters tall. A bright blue creature with crossed-out eyes, gloved hands, and oversized ears, BFF was named after an acronym for "Best Friends Forever", evoking the close and lasting friendships of our youth. Unlike previous works by the artist which feature a smooth finish, BFF features a furry exterior reminiscent of the woolly texture of Sesame Street's Elmo.
The unveiling of the sculpture was accompanied by an exhibition of limited edition prints showcasing the artist’s creative milestones, but also complementary collection of merchandise such as the limited edition 20-inch KAWS: BFF plush toy, tee, umbrella, beach towel and tote bag, which sold in just two and a half hours.
Featured images: KAWS:BFF. Courtesy AllRightsReserved.
On the occasion of an exhibition in Harbour City titled KAWS:CLEAN SLATE, KAWS unveiled a monumental sculpture titled CLEAN SLATE at Ocean Terminal Forecourt of Harbour City. The exhibition was supported by many fans and celebrities, triggering an enthusiastic public response in Hong Kong.
The title of the grey and black work referred to wiping out the past and starting over again, stepping into the next stage of life. The sculpture featured the popular COMPANION character on his feet, carrying two smaller COMPANIONS in his arms, embodying the new chapter in life. The event was accompanied by a selection of editioned prints showcasing the creative milestones of the artist as well as a complimentary limited edition toy set. After Harbour City, the sculpture toured in Shanghai, as well as several cities in the United States and Paris.
In 2018, the sculpture was sold by Phillips New York for $1,650,000, much more than its high estimate, becoming the third most expensive piece sold by KAWS.
Featured images: KAW: CLEAN SLATE, 2014, Hong Kong; KAW: CLEAN SLATE, 2014, Shanghai Yuz Museum; KAW: CLEAN SLATE, 2018, Phillips, New York; KAW: CLEAN SLATE, 2016, Texas, the Modern Museum. Courtesy of AllRightsReserved.
Hosted in Hong Kong, the exhibition KAWS:PASSING THROUGH marked a breakthrough for the artist, presenting his first outdoor sculpture. Located in the Ocean Terminal Forecourt, it featured the 5-meter-tall version of his best known character COMPANION, sitting with his hands on his knees, covering his eyes in embarrassment. The artist recalled the moment when he first saw the exhibition site:
God if I had to sit out here, I would just be mortified if this many people walked past me.
In this way, this COMPANION figure served as a self-portrait of the artist, as he tried to grapple with worldwide fame.
The exhibition toured several other cities after Hong Kong and it was reproduced as a collection of grey, black, and brown vinyl toys in 2013 and 2018.
Featured images: KAWS: PASSING THROUGH, 2010. Hong Kong; KAWS:PASSING THROUGH, 2012, Texas; KAWS: PASSING THROUGH, 2011, New York.