Born Brian Donnelly on November 4, 1974 in Jersey City, KAWS is an American graffiti artist and designer known for his toys, paintings, and prints. After graduating from the School of Visual Arts in New York, KAWS worked in animation. Having started as a graffiti artist in New York in the early 1990s, KAWS began reworking advertisements in his distinctive style. Animator by day, and graffiti artist by night, KAWS started subvertising billboards. This is the practice of making spoofs or parodies of corporate and political advertisements. Since he began, KAWS has now subvertised in cities across the world. From the beginning of his career to now, KAWS has collaborated with some of the worlds biggest brands. He worked together with Nike in 2017 to produce an Air Jordan 4 shoe and has also done multiple collaborations with the clothing brand Uniqlo. By working with popular fashion brands he continues to blur the boundaries between fine and commercial art.

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. KAWS’ Companion is a grayscale clown-like figure based on Mickey Mouse. The figure has 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. The figure was then copied into a giant balloon for the 2012 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Having already created oversized sculptures in the past, KAWS started to produce more sculptures of his Companion character for exhibitions around the world.

KAWS’ has a distinctive style that focuses on colour and line. He adapts distinctive graphics to his work, such as the repeated use of “x”‘s, and the use of pop culture icons such as Mickey Mouse, the Michelin Man. His characters are generally depicted in a shy and/or powerless pose often with their hands over their face. In his paintings, KAWS always deconstructs his appropriation of iconic characters into shapes that produces abstract paintings.

He has enjoyed a celebrated career with many accomplishments. When first released, his sculptures often sell out in seconds. When the Museum of Modern Art promoted KAWS’s toys in its design store, demand was so high that the museum’s website crashed several times. On April 1, 2019 at Sotheby’s in Hong Kong, a painting by KAWS, sold for 115.9 million Hong Kong dollars, or about $14.7 million U.S. dollars. This was a new auction record for the artist at the time.

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