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b. 1974, USA

KAWS Biography

In his sculptures, paintings, and drawings characterised by exuberant colours and forms, Brian Donnelly—better known as KAWS—presents his 'Companion' figures and appropriated cartoon characters that reflect the cultural trends of our times.

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In the early 1990s, KAWS began as a graffiti artist in his hometown of Jersey City before moving to New York, where he graduated with a BFA from the School of Visual Arts in 1996. After a stint as a freelance animator for The Walt Disney Company, he returned to the streets to create his own work. This entailed taking commercial posters from such brands as Calvin Klein, Guess, and Marlboro, and painting over the models' faces with what became his trademark cartoon characters—recognisable by their eyes in the form of the letter X and cauliflower-like ears—and reshowing them in public.

KAWS' 'Companion' cartoon characters quickly garnered attention for their witty and approachable design. Their standard attire—consisting of a pair of white gloves and shorts—evokes the beloved Mickey Mouse, reflecting the artist's interest in cartoon characters' cultural value. His 'Companions' have since been made into toys and other products as a result of collaborations with the streetwear brands Bathing Ape and Supreme, and the musician Kanye West, among others.

The artist also has a reputation for his playful appropriation of well-known cartoon characters. In the 2005 acrylic painting series 'Kimpsons', the cast of The Simpsons is replaced with KAWS' 'Companions'; the 2015 silkscreen prints No One's Home and Stay Steady depict Snoopy, rendered in saturated colours with their forms filled in with abstract patterns.

Because of the accessibility of KAWS' work, and his use of bold colours and imagery associated with consumer products, critics have compared it to the Pop sensibilities of creations by Andy Warhol and Jeff Koons. The artist himself has stressed the significance of approachability in his practice, as he told The Guardian in 2019: 'In my mind I thought, art's purpose is to communicate and reach people. Whichever outlet that's being done through is the right one.'

KAWS' 'Companions' have appeared in numerous public spaces. In 2013, the ten-metre-tall Small Lie was installed at Yorkshire Sculpture Park alongside other wooden 'Companion' sculptures; Clean Slate, which shows a 'Companion' holding two smaller 'Companions', was displayed in Hong Kong's Harbour City (2014) and Shanghai's Huangpu district (2015). In 2019, a 36.9-metre inflatable 'Companion', titled KAWS: Holiday, adorned the Victoria Harbour in Hong Kong during that year's Art Basel.

Selected solo exhibitions include KAWS: Companionship in the Age of Loneliness, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne (2019); Blackout, Skarstedt, London (2019); KAWS: ALONE AGAIN, Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (2019); and WHERE THE END STARTS, Yuz Museum, Shanghai (2017).

Sherry Paik | Ocula | 2020


KAWS Featured Artworks

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Piranhas When You're Sleeping by KAWS contemporary artwork
KAWSPiranhas When You're Sleeping, 2016Screenprint in colours, on wove paper, with full margins
Maddox Gallery Contact Gallery
Ankle Bracelet by KAWS contemporary artwork
KAWSAnkle Bracelet, 2017Screenprint
147.32 x 147.32 cm
Maddox Gallery Contact Gallery
Tension by KAWS contemporary artwork
KAWSTension, 2019Screenprint
88.9 x 58.4 x 4 cm (incl frame)
Maddox Gallery Contact Gallery
LOST TIME, ALONE AGAIN, FAR FAR
DOWN by KAWS contemporary artwork
KAWSLOST TIME, ALONE AGAIN, FAR FAR DOWN, 2018Screenprint
81 x 135 cm
Maddox Gallery Contact Gallery
Lost Time/ Alone Again/ Far,Far Down by KAWS contemporary artwork
KAWSLost Time/ Alone Again/ Far,Far Down, 2018Three silkscreen prints
Gazelli Art House Contact Gallery
Tension (Portfolio of Ten Prints) by KAWS contemporary artwork
KAWSTension (Portfolio of Ten Prints), 201910 screen prints in colours, on wove paper, plus a cover sheet packaged in a lipped clamshell portfolio box
Gazelli Art House Contact Gallery
WHAT PARTY by KAWS contemporary artwork
KAWSWHAT PARTY, 2020Vinyl
28.9 x 13 x 9.5 cm
Sold
Gin Huang Gallery

KAWS Current & Recent Exhibitions

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Contemporary art exhibition, Group Exhibition, Spring Contemporary at Maddox Gallery, Westbourne Grove, London
Open Now
11 April–20 May 2021 Group Exhibition Spring Contemporary Maddox GalleryWestbourne Grove
Contemporary art exhibition, Group Exhibition, Spring Contemporary at Maddox Gallery, Maddox Street, London
Open Now
11 April–20 May 2021 Group Exhibition Spring Contemporary Maddox GalleryMaddox Street
Contemporary art exhibition, Group Exhibition, Art on Paper at Gin Huang Gallery, Online Only, Taichung City
Closed
16 March–30 June 2020 Group Exhibition Art on Paper Gin Huang GalleryOnline Only

KAWS Represented By

KAWS In Ocula Magazine

Yasiin Bey's Sonic Intervention Brings Music Closer to Art Ocula Insight Yasiin Bey's Sonic Intervention Brings Music Closer to Art By Nadine Khalil, Dubai

Yasiin Bey, also known by his stage name Mos Def, brings his sonic intervention Negus to Dubai.

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Young Buyers Boost Phillips’ First Ever Cross-Category Auction Online Ocula News Young Buyers Boost Phillips’ First Ever Cross-Category Auction Online Hong Kong, 3 June 2020

KAWS, Banksy and Josh Sperling were among artists whose work exceeded estimates at the Asia-led sale.

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The Latest: Venice Biennale Delayed till 2022, Olafur Eliasson's AR Bugs, and More Ocula News The Latest: Venice Biennale Delayed till 2022, Olafur Eliasson's AR Bugs, and More Hong Kong, 19 May 2020

This week's need-to-know art news, including Christie's new global auction and an attempt at a fairer art fair by the New Art Dealers Alliance.

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Mega Galleries Hasten to Launch AR and VR Technologies Ocula News Mega Galleries Hasten to Launch AR and VR Technologies Milan, 15 April 2020

Massimo De Carlo, Hauser & Wirth, and Lisson Gallery are all promoting XR projects this month.

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KAWS In Related Press

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'It has created a sense of hostility': how Kaws made the art world pay attention Related Press 'It has created a sense of hostility': how Kaws made the art world pay attention 19 September 2019, The Guardian

With 2.4m Instagram followers, a $14.8m sale and brawls for his T-shirts in Uniqlo, is the artist dismissed as 'conceptually bankrupt' more than just a pop culture craze?

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KAWS: WHERE THE END STARTS Related Press KAWS: WHERE THE END STARTS 28 March 2017, Juxtapoz

Where the End Starts at Yuz Museum in Shanghai is the largest KAWS's exhibition in China, and also his first survey exhibition in Asia. Jointly organized by Yuz Museum and Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth in close collaboration with the artist, KAWS: Where the End Starts features his key paintings, sculptures, drawings, toys, and advertisement...

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Experience KAWS In VR Through Visionaire's Latest Collaboration Project with M&M's Related Press Experience KAWS In VR Through Visionaire's Latest Collaboration Project with M&M's 2 February 2017, Unrated

Virtual reality is fast becoming the new norm, and is seems the iconic chocolate brand M&M’s wants a part of the action. Bringing on the keen eye and direction of fashion and luxury art imprint VISIONAIRE, its latest effort takes the artwork of Brian Donelly, better known as KAWS to new heights. The collaboration sees KAWS’ signature shapes...

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Say hello to my little zine! The NY Art Book Fair takes over Moma PS1 Related Press Say hello to my little zine! The NY Art Book Fair takes over Moma PS1 19 September 2016, ARTNews

The NY Art Book Fair draws a huge crowd every year, and so it wasn’t a surprise that there were lines everywhere at this year’s edition—lines to get into the bathroom, lines to see certain booths, lines for the KAWS signing (the longest line of all), and lines simply to get into the fair itself. But those lines moved quickly, and...

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