He began as a Graffiti artist in New York, NY, and later a freelance artist for Disney, Creating animal backgrounds contributing to 101 Dalmations, Daria, and Doug. Gaining his popularity, his graffiti advertisements were sought after and took the art world by storm, from giant inflatables, wall arts, toys, and t-shirts, he has been selling paintings at auctions for eight figures sums! We’ve gathered 10 few things about KAWS:
- THE NAME BEHIND “KAWS”
An illustrator by trade, Brian Donnelly is the man behind the cross-eyed mask. In case you’re wondering, the name ‘KAWS‘ itself doesn’t mean anything other than letters which Donnelly felt, placed together, suited aesthetically. Born in 1974 at Jersey City, New Jersey.
- HE STARTED AS A GRAFFITI ARTIST
I bet you know this already since I spilled it earlier. KAWS first became interested in graffiti in elementary school, where he spent a good deal of time copying graffiti images onto paper. His first influences were neighborhood children, who painted graffiti images on walls within his community. As he grew older, his influences came from traditional life painters, such as Gerhard Richter, Klaus Oldenberg, and Chuck Close.
His works brought him to a various audience, mostly had nothing to do with the art world. Unlike other artists, launching a gallery was not his primary mode of showcasing his works. He benefited primarily from displaying his masterpieces on the street instead. His popularity became so big that it attracted the attention of collectors and critics.
‘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.’– Donnelly
- KAWS : A POPULAR TOYMAKER
KAWS’ most famous creation is a Mickey Mouse-like figure called Companion. The Companion was born in the late ’90s when KAWS was moving from graffiti-bombing in New York to creating collectible art toys. Produced in an edition of 500, the toys sold out almost immediately, and COMPANION became a recurring figure in KAWS’ work.
“I was thinking, well, I want to work within the language of toy history,” he says during a recent visit to the Fort Worth Modern — he was finishing up a giant wall mural as part of the show ‘Where the End Starts.’ “And one of the most iconic was Mickey, with his gloves and his shorts, and when you start looking at all those toys, you realize those gloves are on dozens of characters. So the first figure that I made has a Mickey-ish feeling.”
- HIS GREAT COLLABORATIONS
He has been at the forefront of collaborative efforts between artists and brands. While collaborations have been commonplace for sneaker and streetwear brands over the past few years, KAWS has been linking up with niche shops and mainstream mega-brands for the better part of 20 years.
In 2007, Comme des Garcons – a Japanese brand approached Kaws. This collaboration included several T-shirts, perfume and wallets, which were sold exclusively at Colette, Paris. Several years later, in 2014, Kaws designed the packaging of another scent, which CDG released in 2014 along with Pharrell Williams.
2008 marked the 10thanniversary of Tokyo’s Supreme store opening, and Kaws’ first collaboration (to be more specific, his OriginalFake brand’s) with Supreme. Kaws redesigned a box logo design and an old 2004 design by David Sims featuring supermodel Kate Moss. This collaboration was available exclusively in Japan. And many more to mention.
- HUGE ARTWORKS OF KAWS
Cute, handy and colorful – that’s how artworks of Kaws look most of the time. In 2019 the artist presented his biggest work to date in Taiwan. The title of the 36-meter large inflatable sculpture is “KAWS: COMPANION“. The giant sculpture was realized in cooperation with “All Rights Reserved”, a creative agency from Hong Kong, which already produced a bronze statue in 2018.
- KAWS: A POP-CULTURE CANNIBAL
KAWS proves himself to be an inventive and uncanny sampler of pop culture, breathing weird new life into familiar figures and scenes. There’s Chum, for instance, a not-so-distant cousin of the Michelin Man, as well as SpongeBob SquarePants, whose visage is often chopped up and remixed in wonderfully deranged ways. Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and mutant versions of the Smurfs also make frequent cameos.
- KAWS VS. BASQUIAT VS. HARING
Some artists are shooting stars, others get their names carved into the annals of art history. Haring and Basquiat’s prolific yet short-lived careers saw them create an abundance of work from painting to sculpture, found object to journal entries. They commented and questioned on social issues through their works of art. They all began as a street artist. but KAWS instantly made it big by creating branded objects – overblown plastic toys and slick paintings featuring the Simpsons. It took Haring (1958-90) and Basquiat (1960-88) considerably longer to become fully-fledged “brands”, but walk the streets of Manhattan today, and you’ll see their imagery on hats, T-shirts, shoes, socks, bags and gym wear.
- THE NUMBERS ARE HITTING THE CEILING
The excitement around his work and impact has grown continuously. Based on a report, KAWS average sale price almost doubled, from $42,272 to $82,063. Where five KAWS pieces sold for more than $1 million, his work realized over $33.8 million at auction across the year.
- KAWS AND INSTAGRAM
KAWS rise to prominence was aided by his extensive use of social media, Instagram in particular. When asked by Vogue how he feels about IG, KAWS answered: “I like it! I think it’s a nice way for people to get to know you.”
- NO CARTOON IS SAFE FROM KAWS’APPROPRIATION
By demonstrating his interests in each cartoon characters and its cultural values, he reinforces ideas that make no differentiation among concepts of ‘high’ and ‘low’ art. He has a unique ability to communicate complex human emotion through appropriated cartoon imagery.