Artist Spotlight: KAWS

American artist and designer KAWS’ (Brian Donnolly) motifs and appropriations began to appear throughout the streets of New York in the early 1990s, with an apparent intent of “subvertising” images to deflect from common commercial and public advertisements. KAWS’s publicly accessible works were imbued with humour, humanity, and an affection for the times.

KAWS, Gone 2019 at the NGV / Alamy

In 1999, KAWS visited Japan after being approached by Bounty Hunter, the cult toy and streetwear brand. Collaborating with the company, he went on to produce his first three-dimensional form, Companion. Defined by the artist’s trademark skull-and-crossbones with X-eyes, these vinyl figures have ensured KAWS’ global appeal and have become a recognised international sensation. As an edition of five hundred, the figure sold out soon after its initial release, and Companion became a recurring figure across KAWS’ oeuvre.

One of KAWS’ most prominent recurring characters is Chum, an adaption of the Michelin Man. Chum is not only appealing, but the playful character also speaks to a wider audience across generations. Chum started appearing in 2001 as a suite of five distinct colour ways, along with Chum Clear in an edition of 1000. Once again, these editions sold out almost immediately, further cementing KAWS mania and a cult following.

In 2012 the artist created Resting Place Companion, a play on the original 1999 Companion vinyl figure. An iconic and monumental appropriation, Resting Place Companion slouches carefree in a moment of pensive stillness, with its body intersected, revealing a colourful cartoon rendering of its anatomy.

KAWS (American, born 1974) Resting Place Companion (Brown) 2012, painted cast vinyl, with original, product box, 22 x 19.5 x 29.5cm | $2,000-3,000

KAWS’ vinyl figures have been adapted across multiple mediums, such as in print, object, or life-sized sculptural form. Resting Place Companion and Chum continue to inspire a growing, dedicated following from all corners of the world.

In 2020, the artist took over the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne with his cartoonish, exuberant, and instantly recognisable sculptures. As part of this exhibition the NGV commissioned its own work, Gone. Standing at a colossal 7 metres tall, this is the largest bronze KAWS piece ever created and will be the centrepiece for the new Fox Contemporary gallery, set to open in 2028.

Across the auction market, KAWS is within the top five of the best-selling Contemporary artists of the 21st century, with over 2,000 auction results from 2019 – 2022.
With one foot in the future, KAWS delivers a universally popular iconography seen and admired within today’s pop culture scene.

HANNAH RYAN / Art Specialist

Banner Image: KAWS (American, born 1974) Resting Place Companion (Brown) 2012,painted cast vinyl, with original,product box,22 x 19.5 x 29.5cm | $2,000-3,000

February 2023