Kaws, artist and designer, is famous for his "toys", the iconic characters inspired by Pop world and mass culture. They are represented in his unmistakable sculptures, but also in paintings, installations and graphic works.
Known as KAWS, Brian Donnelly was born in 1974 in Jersey City and he approached the world of street art at a very young age, while attending St. Anthony High School. There he created the tag “KAWS”, which he painted on the roof of a nearby building so that he could see it outside while attending class in high school. As he declared, the word has no meaning and was chosen by the artist for aesthetic reasons, because of the way the letters looked next to each other.
After continuing his studies at the School of Visual Arts in New York City, he worked in the city as a freelance animator painting backgrounds for well-known animated series (like "101 Dalmatians: The Series"). At the same time, he began his career as a street artist in the New York of the 1990s. KAWS art was born "subvertising" billboards, bus shelters, and phone booths: he altered advertising and billboards with a provocative and parodistic style, featuring the first ideas of his future characters.
From the first street art works, KAWS's style evolved into the most iconic subject of the production of KAWS: Companion. This KAWS doll was created after visiting Japan in 1999 and being impressed by Bounty Hunter, a streetwear brand that also produced toys.
With his first work, KAWS toys achieved immediate success. The KAWS Companion (1999) was produced in a limited edition of 500 pieces, almost immediately sold out. From that moment on, Companion became his most recurrent and iconic character, but other KAWS figures were also created, some inspired by pre-existing characters from the world of Pop and mass culture such as SpongeBob SquarePants, Snoopy, Darth Vader, the Michelin Man and many others. Among the best known Accomplice, Chum, Bendy, BFF and Bearbrick.
And really notable is also The Kimpsons, a series inspired by The Simpsons that led to the artist's current auction record in 2019. In fact, the work by KAWS The Kaws Album sold at Sotheby's in Hong Kong for the equivalent of over €13 million (premium buyer included), marking the artist's record. The 2005 acrylic on canvas painting was a reinterpretation of the cover of The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album, but with Simposon characters crowding the composition.
Touching on a wide variety of different techniques, the many figures invented by the artist range from toys/action figures to paintings, graphic works, installations and actual sculptures. Large-scale KAWS statues have been installed in urban space, and his larger works include an inflatable floating version of Companion over 35 metres long installed in 2019 at Hong Kong's Victoria Harbor.
KAWS has been compared to Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring, whose inimitable styles started out on the street to later find the interest of critics and gallery owners. A second comparison associates KAWS with artists such as Andy Warhol and Jeff Koons: this because of their deep connection to mass society and their instinctive understanding of the possibilities of art in the age of mechanical reproduction.
KAWS mentioned his influences as ranging from Claes Oldenburg and Tom Wesselman to Takashi Murakami. In particular, Murakami shares with KAWS the idea of art expanding into brand collaborations, projects and large-scale productions.
“KAWS navigates seamlessly between street culture, high art and the mass commercial market. His references to popular culture truly capture the essence of zeitgeists past and present, subverting cartoon heroes to reinforce the idea that he makes no distinction between concepts of ‘high’ and ‘low’ art.” - Alex Branczik, Sotheby’s Senior Director of European Head of Contemporary Art
In the early 2000s, KAWS successfully launched his fashion brand, Original Fake, but even more successful were his collaborations with brands and celebrities around the world.
Collaborations with cult streetwear brands include Bathing Ape and Supreme, but also Undercover, Burton, Vans and many more.
In 2008 he designed the cover of Kanye West's 808s & Heartbreak album, and more recently he designed a version of Nike Air Jordans.
In 2019, for Paris Fashion Week, Dior designer Kim Jones debuted his Spring/Summer 2019 collection with a KAWS - Dior interpretation of the fashion house’s iconic bee design, set against the backdrop of a 10-metre tall pink flower sculpture of KAWS’s ‘BFF’ character.
And finally, the artist's most successful collaborations include Uniqlo x KAWS, which led to a capsule collection in 2019 to celebrate the Japanese brand's anniversary. Sold out in record time, the collection combined references to KAWS' iconic toys with characters from Sesame Street, an American television series from the 1970s.
For those interested in where to buy KAWS, Deodato Arte offers a selection of works by the artist for sale online.
If you are interested in knowing about Kaws price, value or which works will be on display at the Deodato Arte Contemporary Art Gallery, do not hesitate to contact us by sending an e-mail to [email protected].