Brian Donnelly used to sneak out of his home and take the train to another station to graffiti on local trains, phone booths and billboards. He just liked how the letters resembled using the tag KAWS which was not a significant name. Thirty years later, he became popular with his items, toys, and artworks. The graffiti is no longer, but the name KAWS remained. As the time change, the insurgent street art has culminated into a trademark with buyers from around the world yearning to own a piece, whether it’s colorful paintings, sculptures, fashion designs or skateboard decks.
In 2019 he made international headlines when his 2005 painting was bought USD 22 million in Hong Kong. His artworks were adorned by the homes of everyone, from models and media personality. He collaborated with Dior and Uniqlo, and other several brands. He has been painting, sculpting, and creating gigantic inflatable toys that have attracted huge crowds from Taipei to Seoul, Mt Fuji to Hong Kong.
According to the senior curator of the National Gallery of Victoria, Simon Maidment, KAWS is a global cultural phenomenon. While on the other side of the world, his trademark bulbous skull heads and Xed eyes masterpieces are not part of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. According to the director of Brooklyn Museum, Anne Pasternak “KAWS makes the art world uncomfortable. He doesn’t respect traditional hierarchies.” We all know that significant popularity attracts criticism, too, and some would predict his works will eventually prove irrelevant. Even though KAWS has been acknowledged by very wealthy collectors and notable brands in fashion and entertainment, criticisms always exist around the corner who sees his works as oeuvre nothing more than kitsch.
“KAWS is a more sophisticated businessperson than most artists. In a cultural high-wire act, he has managed to link fashion, corporate branding, and fine art to strengthen his work’s value in each discrete sphere.”
It is a great talent to be stoic and more focused on what you can control. With all these criticisms prying around, Donnelly acknowledges that He cannot control such things. Regardless of those, he still proceeds with his daily work in which he always does.
“Whatever, I don’t try to figure out why people have the thoughts they do or feel like being outspoken. Life’s too short, you need to focus on what you make.”
There is no limit in Donnelly’s creative process, He has been thriving in his technical works. He has always been open to new learnings. He studied at the School of Visual Arts in New York and moved to Manhattan in 1996 when he began working for Disney’s Jumbo Pictures. He then created backgrounds for animation series such as 101 Dalmatians, relishing the chance to work with acrylics and fine brushes.
“I think about what reached me when I was a kid and try to create work in the same format.— Brian Donnelly”
He the later developed prominence across New York, London, Berlin and Paris for his signature of ‘subvertising’–creating parody advertisements meant to jumble corporate messaging and deflate its power. Quietly, he would remove billboards and other street advertisements of luxury goods and fashion, painting over them using acrylics, adding his signature skull and crossbones cartoon. Then he would return them to their original spot. He was so skilled that it was difficult to determine the original ad vs. the one “subvertized” by KAWS.
In one of his earlier works, he collaborated with the Japanese company Bounty Hunter giving birth to his first toy, Companion – a vinyl figure resembling Mickey Mouse with crosses for eyes and the same skull, crossbones. Then several partnerships grew in the long run with several famous artists and brands such as Nigo and Medicom Toy; DC Shoes, Vans, Supreme; John Mayer’s Guitar Picks, Kanye West’s album cover; Comme des Garcons, and Pharrell Williams’ perfume, rugs for Gallery 195, and magazine cover for New Yorker. He also got the opportunity to showcase his largest bronze sculpture entitled Gone, depicting one of his Companions cradling an unconscious figure in its arms. This colossal sculpture was displayed in the National Gallery of Victoria. The audience was mesmerized by its impressive technical engineering.
“Donnelly clearly craves stimulation and challenges, evidenced by the collaborators he partners with. “You hear about things you’re excited to do, things you haven’t done before, to work with somebody you really admire,” he says.”