Brian Donnelly (born November 4, 1974), known professionally as Kaws (stylized as KAWS), is an American artist and designer. His work includes repeated use of a cast of figurative characters and motifs, some dating back to the beginning of his career in the 1990s, initially painted in 2D and later realized in 3D. Some of his characters are his own creations while others are reworked versions of existing icons.
November 4, 1974
|Education||School of Visual Arts|
|Known for||Painting, graphic design, sculpture, graffiti, toys, collectibles|
Kaws' influences come from traditional high art painters like Gerhard Richter, Claes Oldenburg, and Chuck Close, and he has been compared to the likes of Andy Warhol for his cross-market appeal and ability to blur lines between commercial and fine art. His work is exhibited in galleries and museums, held in the permanent collections of public institutions, and avidly collected by individuals including music producer Swizz Beatz, internet figure PewDiePie, rapper Pharrell Williams, and members of South Korean group BTS. A number of books illustrating his work have been published.
Kaws lives and works in Brooklyn, New York, creating sculptures, acrylic paintings on canvas, and screen prints while also collaborating commercially, predominantly on limited edition toys, but also clothing, skateboard decks, and other products.
Early life and educationEdit
Donnelly was born in 1974 in Jersey City, New Jersey where he attended St. Anthony High School. As a teenager, Donnelly created a tag for himself, KAWS (based on the way the letters looked — the word, in fact, has no meaning), which he painted on the roof of an area building so that he could see it outside while attending class in high school. He went on to attend the School of Visual Arts in New York City, receiving a Bachelor of Fine Arts in illustration in 1996. Following graduation, he briefly worked for Jumbo Pictures as a freelance animator painting backgrounds for the animated series 101 Dalmatians, Daria and Doug.
Moving to New York City in the 1990s, illegal graffiti was the first step of Kaws learning his craft. Animator by day, and graffiti artist by night, Kaws started subvertising billboards, bus shelters, and phone booths, using a skeleton key gifted to him by friend and fellow graffiti artist Barry McGee. Using a key he created for himself, he also started subvertising bus shelters. Kaws has since subvertised in Paris, London, Berlin, and Tokyo.
Kaws' acrylic paintings and sculpture have many repeating images, all meant to be universally understood, surpassing languages and cultures. Some of his characters date back to the beginning of his career in the 1990s: Companion (created in 1999), Accomplice, Chum, and Bendy. His series The Kimpsons subverted the American cartoon The Simpsons.
Kaws' Companion is a grayscale clown-like figure based on Mickey Mouse with his face obscured by both hands, and two bones sticking out of his head. In 1999, the Japanese toy company Bounty Hunter produced and sold a vinyl Companion toy (Mickey Mouse with X-ed out eyes). The figure was adapted into a balloon for the 2012 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, as part of its "Blue Sky Gallery" of balloons. Having already created oversized sculptures in the past, Kaws started to produce further sculptures of his Companion character for exhibitions in Switzerland, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Málaga, London, and China.
Kaws has periodically shown both paintings and products at Colette in Paris since 1999. His work was included in the traveling exhibition Beautiful Losers, which started at the Cincinnati Contemporary Art Center and traveled throughout the US and Europe, including his then-largest museum show to date at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, GA in 2012.
On April 1, 2019 at Sotheby's in Hong Kong, The Kaws Album (2005), a painting by Kaws commissioned by Nigo, sold for 115.9 million Hong Kong dollars, or about $14.7 million U.S. dollars, a new auction record for the artist at the time.
Kaws' work can be characterized by an emphasis on color and line, distinctive graphics, such as the repeated use of "x"'s on hands and nose and ears, and the appropriation of pop culture icons such as Mickey Mouse, the Michelin Man, the Smurfs, Snoopy, and SpongeBob SquarePants. His characters are generally depicted in a shy and/or powerless pose often with their hands over their nose. In his paintings, Kaws always deconstructs his appropriation of iconic characters into shapes that produces abstract paintings.
Products and commercial collaborationsEdit
Since his first vinyl toy with the Japanese clothing brand Bounty Hunter in 1999, he has collaborated on toys with other Japanese companies: Nigo for A Bathing Ape (Bape), Medicom Toy, and Santastic!. Since the beginning of their partnership in 2001, Nigo and Kaws have collaborated on the packaging for Kaws’ “The Kimpsons” exhibit and three seasons of A Bathing Ape. He and Medicom Toy ran OriginalFake, a brand and store in Aoyama, from 2006 to May 2013.
Kaws has also collaborated with Jun Takahashi for the brand Undercover, as a voice-over artist for Michael "Mic" Neumann's Kung Faux, and worked on projects with Burton, Vans, Supreme and DC Shoes. There are Kaws-designed small edition bottles for Dos Equis and Hennessy, rugs for Gallery 1950 and packaging for Kiehl's cosmetics.
In 2008, he created cover art for musicians Towa Tei, Cherie, Clipse (Clipse Till The Casket Drops) and Kanye West (808s & Heartbreak) as well as designed Nike Air Force 1 trainers (the Nike 1World project involved 18 total designers). And in March 2017, the Nike subsidiary Air Jordan released a capsule collection in collaboration with Kaws – four Air Jordan sneakers customized by Kaws, and a number of apparel pieces.
For the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards, Kaws redesigned the MTV Moonman trophy in the form of his "Companion" character, and his 3D model was used to create a 60-foot tall inflatable version. He also redesigned various event materials.
In 2016, Kaws entered into an ongoing relationship with clothing store Uniqlo to produce a line of affordable T-shirts and accessories; the first line was clothing and soft toys based on the popular children's show Sesame Street. In April 2017, Uniqlo released a line of Peanuts-themed T-shirts, accessories, and plushies designed by Kaws; and in November 2018, Kaws created a second line range of Sesame Street-themed clothing and soft toys.
In May 2017, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City released limited supplies of the $200 Kaws Companion action figure, resulting in the MoMA Design Store website crashing due to the unprecedented rush of traffic.
In July 2021, Kaws collaborated with Travis Scott.
Comic book artist Bill Morrison felt "ripped off" by Kaws' 2005 work The Kaws Album because the work was simply a "traced interpretation of my Simpsons Yellow Album" (released in 1998), which itself was a parody of the cover art for the Beatles album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band replaced with characters from the Simpsons.
In response to the sale of "The yes he did KAWS Album" at Sotheby's Anny Shaw wrote that he has not moved on from being a street artist, and that his work is conceptually bankrupt. M. H. Miller views Brian Donnelly's career in light of the current state of the art world, where contemporary works are less about cultural value than providing a place to "park" the wealth of billionaires. However, KAWS is given credit for being modest about his work and admitting that it is not worth the high prices brought upon resale.
Kaws' work is held in the following permanent public collections:
- Kaws Exposed. Seattle: ARO Space, 1999. ISBN 9789110509443. Edition of 2000 copies. 31 pages of photographs of his graffiti.
- Kaws One. Tokyo: Little More, 2001. Edited by Kawachi, Taka and Akio E-da. ISBN 978-4898150450.
- Kaws C10: The Paintings of Kaws. Seattle: Neverstop, 2002. ISBN 9780971709409. With an introduced by Carlo McCormick. Edition of 3000 copies.
- Kaws: 1993-2010. Skira Rizzoli), 2009. Written by Mónica Ramírez-Montagut. ISBN 978-0847834341. A retrospective, with illustrations and text. Edited by Ian Luna and Lauren A. Gould and with a contribution by Germano Celant.
- Kaws: Downtime. Atlanta, GA: High Museum of Art, 2012. Edited by Michael Rooks and Seth Zucker. ISBN 9781932543476. With a foreword by Michael E. Shapiro, an essay by Rooks, and a list of Kaws exhibitions. 112 pages. A catalogue to accompany the exhibition Downtime at High Museum of Art.
- Kaws: Final Days Exhibition Catalogue. 82 pages covering an exhibition at the Center of Contemporary Art of Malaga in 2014.
- Kaws Exhibition Catalogue. Wakefield, England: Yorkshire Sculpture Park, 2016. Photographs by Jonty Wilde. ISBN 978-1-908432-21-6. A catalogue to accompany an exhibition at Yorkshire Sculpture Park. With texts by Flavia Frigeri, Helen Pheby, and Clare Lilley.
- KAWS: Where the End Starts. 2017. With text by: Andrea Karnes, Dieter Buchhart, and Michael Auping. ISBN 9780929865362.
- "Pop artist KAWS' gigantic cartoon sculptures will be taking over the Yorkshire countryside". The Independent, 31 January 2016. Accessed 25 March 2017
- "KAWS brings giant cartoon creations to Yorkshire Sculpture Park". Creative Review, 4 February 2016. Accessed 25 March 2017
- Chung, Stephy (March 25, 2019). "Enormous KAWS sculpture appears on Hong Kong waters it". CNN.com. CNN. Retrieved March 29, 2019.
- "KAWS biography | Masters & Contemporary". Masterscontemporary.com. June 10, 2011. Retrieved February 26, 2019.
- Smart, Jennifer (October 4, 2016). "KAWS' Art Has Graced Museums and Consumer Products, and Now He Gets His First Survey". Dallas Observer. Retrieved April 12, 2019.
- Lee, Chris (February 21, 2009). "Tag, this artist is definitely it". Los Angeles Times. Tribune Company. Retrieved March 11, 2009.
- "KAWS on 'Brilliant Ideas'". Bloomberg L.P., 15 June 2016. Accessed 23 March 2017
- Nastasijevic, Asja (June 18, 2015). "Celebrity Art Collectors: 10 Celebrities from Hollywood". Widewalls. Retrieved March 21, 2019.
- Robb, Adam. "Former Jersey City graffiti artist KAWS has first solo museum show", The Jersey Journal, June 25, 2010, updated January 18, 2019. Accessed November 22, 2019. "Stare long enough and you'll start to notice the faded graffiti tagged along the top floors of some surrounding factories, like the crude white letters spelling KAWS on two sides of a rooftop at 13th and Coles. It's the tag of Brian Donnelly, arguably Jersey City's most celebrated artist to date, who painted his pseudonym there in the early 1990s so it would be visible from his classroom window at nearby St. Anthony High School."
- "Sandra Gering Inc. - KAWS". Sandra Gering. Retrieved July 22, 2016.
- Healy, Murray. And "Graffiti Artist Turned Gallery Artist Turned Art Toy Maker, KAWS." Pop. Feb. 2007: 260-265.
- Schacter, Rafael (2018). Street to Studio. London: Lund Humphries Publishers. pp. 98–103. ISBN 9781848222366.
- Miller, M.H. (November 19, 2012). "KAWS Brings His 'Companion' Over for Thanksgiving". Observer. Retrieved March 21, 2019.
- Lee, Chris. "Tag, this artist is definitely it". latimes.com. Retrieved April 12, 2019.
- "KAWS Biography". Iconoclastusa.com. Archived from the original on December 11, 2008. Retrieved March 22, 2017.CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
- "More Gallery - Giswil, Switzerland - Kaws: Giswil". Moregallery.ch. August 26, 2013. Retrieved March 22, 2017.
- Bray, Arthur (September 16, 2014). "KAWS "Clean Slate" Exhibition @ Harbour City Hong Kong". Hypebeast.com. Retrieved March 22, 2017.
- "潮派藝術家KAWS來了！巨型坐姿COMPANION坐鎮台北 ｜ 蘋果新聞網 ｜ 蘋果日報". 蘋果新聞網 (in Chinese). January 19, 2019. Retrieved October 11, 2021.
- "Openings: KAWS – "Final Days" @ CAC Malaga « Arrested Motion". Arrestedmotion.com. March 28, 2014. Retrieved March 22, 2017.
- "On Exhibit | Kaws' Giant "Small Lie" Sculpture At Frieze London | Supertouch". Supertouchart.com. Retrieved March 22, 2017.
- "The new KAWS public art in China is off the hook". TheArtGorgeous. Retrieved November 5, 2018.
- "Kaws: Down Time". High Museum of Art. Accessed 24 March 2017
- Kaws Auction Record $14.7 Million. Artnews, Annie Armstrong, 1 April 2019. Accessed 12 May 2019
- "Millennials in Hoodies Spend $28 Million on Simpsons Art". www.bloomberg.com. April 1, 2019. Retrieved March 1, 2020.
- Smart, Jennifer (October 4, 2016). "KAWS' Art Has Graced Museums and Consumer Products, and Now He Gets His First Survey". Dallas Observer. Retrieved April 15, 2019.
- "Bounty hunter companion - mono Companion by Kaws, ... | Trampt Library". Trampt.com. Retrieved March 22, 2017.
- "KAWS Announces Closure of OriginalFake | HUH". Huhmagazine.co.uk. Retrieved March 22, 2017.
- "categorized art collection • KAWS, "Kaws x Undefeated Billboard" (2004): "The..." categorized art collection. Retrieved May 14, 2018.
- "Undefeated Billboard Project - The Hangline". The Hangline. March 1, 2011. Archived from the original on May 14, 2018. Retrieved May 14, 2018.
- "John Mayer x Kaws Guitar Picks". HYPEBEAST. Retrieved May 14, 2018.
- "Kanye West "808s & Heartbreak" album cover by KKAWS"". Hypebeast, November 2011
- "Nike 1World Air Force 1 by KAWS". Hypebeast, 1 July 2008. Accessed 25 March 2017
- Boykins, Austin (March 20, 2017). "Jordan Brand x Kaws Collection Release Date". Hypebeast. Retrieved March 22, 2017.
- "KAWS x Clark Magazine Issue 45". Hypebeast, 3 November 2010. Accessed 23 March 2017
- "KAWS Fronts the 29th Issue of 'SNEEZE' Magazine Dubbed "Get Met It Pays"". Sneeze Magazine, 18 October 2016. Accessed 25 March 2017
- "Work.Of.Art.The.Next.Great.Artist.S02E10 (Finale)," YouTube. Retrieved Jan. 28, 2021.
- "MTV Awards Will Feature a New Moonman, Just Right for Brooklyn". The New York Times, 8 July 2013. Accessed 23 March 2017
- "VMA's KAWS 60-Foot Moonman: How'd They Do That?". MTV News, 25 August 2013. Accessed 23 March 2017
- "Girl by Pharrell Williams". Comme des Garçons. Accessed 23 March 2017
- "Kaws x Sesame Street | UNIQLO US". www.uniqlo.com. Retrieved August 27, 2018.
- "Kaws x Peanuts". Uniqlo. Accessed 28 April 2017
- "Uniqlo Is Releasing a Second Collection of the Coolest 'Sesame Street' Gear Ever". Fatherly. October 26, 2018. Retrieved February 27, 2019.
- Marshall, Cass (May 26, 2017). "Why did a $200 toy crash the Museum of Modern Art's website?". Polygon. Retrieved February 26, 2019.
- Patos, Robert (May 29, 2017). "Rare KAWS Seated Companion $400,000 USD Auction". Hypebeast. Retrieved February 26, 2019.
- "US artist KAWS makes permanent mark in China". CNN Style. May 7, 2018. Retrieved May 17, 2018.
- "I have joined Russ Heath, John Romita, Mike Sekowsky, Tony Abruzzo, and many other comic artists who have been ripped off by "fine artists."". November 19, 2019.Bill Morrison Facebook page
- Adair, Torsten. "KAWS made $14 million from Bill Morrison art, and Morrison isn’t happy: When copies of comics art appear in glass houses, should creators throw stones?", The Beat (11/19/2019).
- "KAWS Painting Sold for Record Breaking HK$116m at Sotheby's NIGO Sale," The Value, 1 April 2019. Accessed 15 June 2020.
- Shaw, Anny (April 3, 2019). "Why KAWS is not a great artist". The Art Newspaper.
Brian Donnelly's painting sold for a record $14.8m at Sotheby's—but there is little value in his art
- Miller, M. H. (February 9, 2021). "The Surprising Ascent of KAWS". The New York Times Magazine.
Brian Donnelly went from tagger to blue-chip artist, riding the increasingly blurry line between commercial and fine art.
- "Where the end Starts: 2011: Kaws". High Museum of Art. Accessed 24 March 2017
- "Along the Way". Brooklyn Museum. Accessed 17/5/17
- "Untitled". Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego. Accessed 17/5/17
- "New Kaws statue in Campus Martius gains fans and critics". Detroit Free Press. Accessed 23/5/18
- "Kaws Exhibition Catalogue" Archived 2016-10-27 at the Wayback Machine. Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Accessed 22 March 2017
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