KAWS is an American artist and designer. He was born in 1974 under the name Brian Donnelly in New Jersey. He began drawing as a young child and developed a passion for comics and cartoons early on. He graduated from the School of Visual Arts in New York in 1996.
During his studies he was already able to show an impressive portfolio. His trained eye enabled him to faithfully reproduce the most famous works in art history. However, he decided to develop his own distinctive style.
Where does the pseudonym KAWS come from?
The artist became known and achieved his first great success in the 1990s with his graffiti. Under the pseudonym KAWS, he reworked the advertisements on bus stops and telephone boxes with his own motifs. His artist name was inspired by the large-format letter constellations on commercial posters that dominated the visual streetscape of New York in the 1990s. The four capital letters have no particular meaning: KAWS chose them for their sound and visual composition. By painting over the billboards, he realised his intention to reclaim public places. Starting in New Jersey, his art soon found its way to other major cities such as Paris, Berlin and Tokyo. In 1996, he worked briefly in animation for Walt Disney Animation Studios, which helped shape his further development.
The “Companion” figure
KAWS often uses well-known characters, such as the comic figures from The Simpsons, Snoopy or SpongeBob, reinterprets them and redesigns them in his own way. In 2001, KAWS created a series of paintings entitled “Package Paintings”. KAWS alienated the Simpsons characters with his typical artistic trademarks and called them “THE KIMPSONS”. This is also where KAWS’ famous, recurrent “Companion” face with crossed eyes appears. The artist later developed this into a three-dimensional figure. His sad, almost dead-looking “Companions” can be seen as anti-heroes of the always cheerful Mickey Mouse.
KAWS “Companion” in the “Icons of Urban Art” exhibition in Munich
In our current MUCA exhibition in Munich stands the acrylic figure 4ft Companion (dissected black) from 2009. The left side is completely covered in black, the right side shows what lies beneath: Organs, brain and eyes in bright colors.Come and see KAWS live with us – you can book a ticket directly here.
KAWS and MTV: The world-famous “Moon Man”
KAWS now lives and works in Brooklyn, where pop culture motifs serve as his source of inspiration. Over time, his figures have become more abstract and larger: some sculptures are up to ten metres high. He uses materials such as wood, aluminium, steel and fibreglass.
With his works, he continuously blurs the boundaries between art and commerce. KAWS has already cooperated with big brands like Nike and designed record covers for musicians like Kanye West. The “Moon Man” he designed for the MTV Video Music Awards 2013 is world-famous. In addition to works on canvas, drawings on street walls and large-scale sculptures, KAWS also designs toy figures. His work has been shown in galleries, museums and open-air exhibitions worldwide and is part of the collections of the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth and the Rosenblum Collection in Paris. Collectors of his work include producer and rapper Swizz Beatz and musician Pharell Williams.
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