Brian Donnelly aka KAWS is currently one of the leading figures when pop art is concerned.
Starting as a street artist, KAWS quickly climbed the ladder to the art galleries worldwide, becoming a significant figure in the contemporary art world.
Drawing his inspiration from the popular culture iconography, KAWS has developed a unique style that blurs the lines between fine arts, illustration, and commercials. He is also one of the artists who has proved the art skeptics wrong when it comes to the value of vinyl toys, showing that their place is not to be underestimated in the luxury art market. Throughout his prolific career, KAWS also experimented with painting, drawing, and sculpture.
And while we’re talking about the art market you must be interested to see how successful KAWS’ pieces at the auctions are. Therefore, we bring you the list of most expensive KAWS’ pieces, finishing our list with the no.1. Can you guess what it is?
Editors’ Tip: KAWS: Where the End Starts
KAWS: Where the End Starts explores the artist’s prolific career in depth, featuring key paintings, sculptures, drawings, toys, and fashion and advertising designs. This extensive monograph, including contributions from Andrea Karnes, Michael Auping, Dieter Buchhart and Pharrell Williams, reveals critical aspects of KAWS’ formal and conceptual development over the past 20 years, as his career has shifted from graffiti to fine art and collaborations with designers and brands such as Comme des Garçons, SUPREME, Nigo (A Bathing Ape) and Nike.
Featured image: KAWS - The Kaws Album, 2005.
A sculpture of massive scale, At This Time from 2013 presents KAWS’ signature COMPANION figure, standing alone with his head tilted backward and his eyes sunk in his hands. Crafted from afromosia wood and executed in a rich, natural color with exposed wood grain, the work is at the same time monumental and imposing, playful and psychologically charged. Created in collaboration with the Japanese furniture company Karimoku, the piece illustrates KAWS’ enduring fascination and experimentation with materiality.
The work was sold on October 4th, 2019 at Phillips London during their 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale for $1,494,528.
More data on At This Time here!
First unveiled in Hong Kong in 2014 as one of KAWS' largest public sculptures, Clean Slate refers to wiping out the past and starting over again, stepping into the next stage of life. It features the popular COMPANION character on his feet, carrying two smaller COMPANIONS in his arms, embodying the new chapter in life.
After being exhibited at Phillips Plaza in New York, it was sold by the auction house on November 15th, 2018 during their 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale for $1,650,000, much more than its high estimate.
More data on Clean Slate here!
Featuring a close-up of SpongeBob SquarePants, GRRR! from 2008 is demonstrative of KAWS’s unique ability to communicate complex human emotion through appropriated cartoon imagery. Rendered with distinct X-crossed eyes, the iconic character is here transformed into KAWSBOB. In this cropped image, we see the character with his mouth open exposing the signature gap between his two front teeth. Bursting with emotive intensity, the work reflects the protagonist's ire or anxiety.
The work was sold on November 14th, 2019 at Phillips New York during their 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale for $1,800,000.
More data on GRRR! here!
An iconic, large-scale painting, Nyt (Companion Close Up) Brown from 2013 once again features KAWS' signature character, COMPANION. In this iteration, COMPANION is depicted with his head in his white-gloved hands, reflecting a human sensibility. First appearing as a toy in 1999, COMPANION remains KAWS' most enduring character. As the artist explains, he presents a universal symbol of the human condition:
He deals with life in the way everyone does ... He reflects attitudes we all have.
The work was sold on June 25th, 2019 at Christie's London during their Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Auction for $1,876,950.
More data on Nyt (Companion Close Up) Brown here!
A boldly-colored canvas that immediately attracts attention, Chum (KCB7) features a Michelin Man-inspired character striding toward the viewer out of the wall. Featuring uniform planes of red, yellow, orange, blue, and purple, the character seems full of potential energy and movement. As other KAWS's characters, it features the instantly recognizable X-ed out eyes.
The piece was sold on November 15th, 2018 at Christie's New York during their Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale for $2,000,000, soaring past its estimate of $300,000 - $500,000.
More data on Chum (Kcb7) here!
Here we see an entire cast of the Simpson family on their living room couch. Set against a dark blue background, each character features their signature sprouting puffy crossbones and X’ed eyes. Almost sliding off the couch, the characters appear either drunk or dead.
The piece was sold on April 1st, 2019 at Sotheby's Hong Kong during their NIGOLDENEYE® Vol. 1 sale for a staggering $2,165,654, soaring past its estimate of $509,566 - $764,349.
More data on Untitled (Kimpsons #3) here!
Another work epitomizing the playful dynamism and sophisticated manipulation of familiar imagery that distinguishes the acclaimed output of KAWS, Kurf (Hot Dog) is composed of vibrantly saturated colors and boldly defined forms. The figure is outfitted in the guise of a Smurf, the humorous woodland character familiar from innumerable comics and toys of childhood. However, it is marked by the artist’s signature ‘X’ eyes, a sinister and fascinating hallmark of his practice. Like many of his works, it examines the psychology of contemporary society through an intriguing cast of cartoon characters.
The work was sold on May 16th, 2019 at Sotheby's New York during their Contemporary Art Evening Auction for $2,660,000.
More data on Kurf (Hot Dog) here!
Created in 2009, Kurfs (Tangle) is a striking example of KAWS’s appropriative techniques and ability to infuse seemingly innocuous animated characters with wry humor and critical discourse. The artist depicted Kurf entangled in a lime green vine, sporting signature skull and crossbones head with ‘x’s for eyes. The personality of this otherwise ubiquitous children’s character is thus negated.
The work was sold on May 15th, 2019 at Christie's New York during their Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale for $2,655,000.
More data on Kurfs (Tangle) here!
Another riff of The Simpsons, Untitled (Kimpsons) features the entire Simpsons family on the couch, but this time, seating neatly and getting ready to watch the TV.
The piece was sold on April 1st, 2019 at Sotheby's Hong Kong during their NIGOLDENEYE® Vol. 1 sale for an amazing $2,229,350, soaring past its estimate of $509,566 - $764,349.
More data on Untitled (Kimpsons) here!
Painted in 2004, Untitled (Fatal Group) evinces KAWS at his most technically accomplished and conceptually resolute. Carefully balancing block colors and monotone shadows, the artist refigured the cast of the animated series The Fat Albert Show with their heads composed in the artist’s trademark cross-eyed skulls. At the same time, the piece alludes to the historical genre of the group portrait that was popularized in 16th and 17th century Europe.
The piece was sold on November 15th, 2018 at Phillips New York during their 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale for an amazing $2,251,250, soaring past its estimate of $700,000 - $900,000.
More data on Untitled (Fatal Group) here!
A work boundless in complexity, Armed Away immediately draws the viewer into the artist’s explosive and instantly recognizable vibrant palette. Executed in impressive scale, it demonstrates KAWS's proficiency as a colorist in a method seldom captured to this extent. The cartoon and comic imagery instantly convey the feeling of Roy Lichtenstein’s pop heroes and heroines, while the lively swathes of color and repetition of imagery inspire visions of Warhol’s effortless refinement of pop culture.
The work was sold on May 25th, 2019 at Christie's Hong Kong during their 20th Century & Contemporary Art (Evening Sale) for $3,073,582.
More data on Armed Away here!
In the work In the Woods, KAWS depicted Snow White, an iconic character which has captivated the hearts of generations, renowned for the beauty, purity, and innocence that her name suggests. However, in this piece, her innocence is transformed into an acerbic critique. This interpretation takes on the sinister undertones with Snow White stripped of color, with her eyes crossed out in the artist’s signature X-marks style and her hair modified to the famed cross-bone design.
The work was sold on May 16th, 2019 at Christie's New York during their Post-War and Contemporary Art Afternoon Session for $3,855,000.
More data on In the Woods here!
A quintessential example of the artist’s ability to communicate complex human emotion through reclaimed cartoon imagery, The Walk Home depicts the ever‐popular animated character, SpongeBob SquarePants, rendered in an almost rubber-like matte finish. The character's eyes are obliterated with his signature X-motifs. SpongeBob is surrounded by a dozen pairs of disembodied arms, echoing the protagonist’s own raised limbs. This emphasizes the magnitude of emotion captured in a single moment.
The piece was sold on May 16th, 2016 at Phillips New York during their 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale for staggering $5,000,000.
More data on The Walk Home here!
Among the largest works KAWS ever produced, Untitled (Kimpsons #1) belongs to the iconic KIMPSONS series that arose out of collaborative design projects between the artist and Japanese cultural entrepreneur and street fashion icon NIGO®. In this particular work, the family is captured in mid-air, at the climactic apex of their projectile trajectory. As usual, all of the characters are rendered with the signature X-ed out eyes, amplifying their helplessness. The work fully encapsulates the artist's wit, prescient vision and affectionate irreverence for our times.
The work was sold on October 6th, 2019 at Sotheby's Hong Kong during their Contemporary Art Evening Sale for $6,258,387.
More data on Untitled (Kimpsons #1) here!
Created in 2005, The Kaws Album is an appropriation of appropriation, KAWS's take on The Simpsons's The Yellow Album, which is a riff on the cover art for the Beatles album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club. It features a whole cast of the artist's Kimpsons characters with their signature sprouting puffy crossbones and X’ed eyes. Kimspons are accompanied by KAWS's popular COMPANION, seated on the left of the composition. One of the most accomplished works on canvas the artist ever created, it epitomizes his entire artistic and cultural lexicon.
The piece was sold on April 1st at Sotheby's Hong Kong during their NIGOLDENEYE® Vol. 1 sale for a staggering $14.7 million, setting a new auction record for the artist. The piece soared past its estimate of $760,000–$1 million to a spectacular finish.
More data on The Kaws Album here!