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Thing you probably didn’t know about KAWS
Hype, Street

Thing you probably didn’t know about KAWS 

KAWS is an American graffiti artist and designer known for his toys, paintings, and prints, etc. Pop Art and culture permeate his cartoonish Companion series of figurines, which bear a resemblance to the works of Takashi Murakami. His art has changed the entire world’s perspective about pop art. His giant inflatables have graced a lake in Seoul and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, his characters feature on T-shirts, and his paintings sell for eight-figure sums at auction.

1. His real name

Brian Donnelly KAWS

Brian Donnelly studied visual art and illustrations at the School of Visual Arts, New York. Before making a name for himself on the streets of New York, he worked as a background painter for animated series such as Disney’s 101 Dalmatians and the cult show Daria and Doug.

2. Life as a grafitti artist

KAWS graffiti artist

Brian had notoriety in the US as he was known for tagging the building of New Jersey and Manhattan. He started writing  “KAWS” on the buildings just because he felt that the letters looked good together. Later, he turned his simple tags into elaborate cartoon arts which he generally made at the advertisement panels of bus shelters.

He would replicate these early works of ‘subvertising’ in a series of screen-printed lithographs. These included a mock Calvin Klein ad, featuring supermodel Christy Turlington being embraced by a green figure.

His origins in graffiti brought his work to a diverse audience, many of whom had nothing to do with the art world. Unlike most artists, KAWS did not start out with a gallery; he was fully aware of the benefits of showing his work in the street and mass-producing pieces in order to build a following. This following became so big that it attracted the attention of collectors and critics.

Street art KAWS

Speaking of his early days as a graffiti artist, Donnelly said, ‘When I was doing graffiti, my whole thought was, “I just want to exist.” I want to exist with this visual language in the world… It meant nothing to me to make paintings if I wasn’t reaching people.’

3.He claimed his fame with toys

KAWS toys

KAWS visited Japan after being approached by Bounty Hunter in 1999. Bounty Hunter is a cult toy and streetwear brand so, this opportunity changed his life. He created his first toy named “Companion”. It was an instant success as the 500 units which were manufactured were instantly sold out. Companion still remains a recurring theme in his artwork.

4. He’s having a moment

KAWS’ COMPANION Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbor

In March 2019, a 121-foot-long inflatable version of KAWS’ COMPANION  was installed in Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbor during Art Basel. Anchored by a 40-ton weight, versions of the piece — dubbed KAWS: HOLIDAY — were previously on view in Seoul and Taipei, and mark the latest step in the artist’s rise to fame over recent years. Although KAWS was successful in the 2000s, the 2019 Artnet Intelligence Report reports that in 2017 his average sale price almost doubled, from $42,272 to $82,063. In November 2018, five KAWS pieces sold for more than $1 million, and across the year his work realized over $33.8 million at auction.

5. Instagram fame

KAWS Fan following

KAWS ‘s fame is also a result of his gigantic fan following on Instagram as online influence plays a major platform for modern art. At the time of writing, more than 900,000 posts bearing the hashtag #KAWS had been posted on Instagram, compared to 300,000 for Jeff Koons and 192,000 for Damien Hirst. Specialists have speculated that this could partly be down to the fact that his bright, Pop-art style reproduces faithfully online, but this popularity can also be attributed to KAWS’ origins as a street artist.

6. KAWS and his comparisons to Basquiat and Haring

KAWS comparison to Basquiat and Haring

KAWS has been described as the modern arts worst nightmare because of his uniqueness. This is the reason he has been compared to artists like Basquiat and Haring. Whose own inimitable styles started out on the street, as well as Andy Warhol and Jeff Koons, who both had an instinctive understanding of the possibilities of art in the age of mechanical and industrial reproduction.

7. He’s known for appropriating beloved cartoon characters

KAWS love for cartoons

KAWS is known for subverting iconic cartoon heroes and in doing so he demonstrates his interest in the characters’ universal cultural value, reinforcing the idea that he makes no distinction between concepts of ‘high’ and ‘low’ art. Be it The Simpsons or Family guy, the artist is known for subverting iconic cartoon heroes and in doing so he demonstrates his interest in the characters’ universal cultural value, reinforcing the idea that he makes no distinction between concepts of ‘high’ and ‘low’ art.

8. He once designed a float for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

KAWS Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

In 2012 a KAWS COMPANION balloon was seen floating down the streets of Manhattan as part of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, its XX eyes covered by large gloved hands. Its appearance alongside characters as Mickey Mouse and Sonic the Hedgehog provided further proof of KAWS’ ability to transform art into a spectacle for mass consumption.

9. His collaborations

Original Fake

KAWS launched his own fashion brand “Original Fake” in the 2000s after which he worked with extremely famous and influential brands like Supreme and BAPE.

He also worked for Kanye West by making the cover art for his album 808s and heartbreaks. In 2019, Paris Fashion Week saw Dior designer Kim Jones debut his Spring/Summer 2019 collection with a KAWS interpretation of the fashion house’s iconic bee design, set against the backdrop of a 33-ft tall pink flower sculpture of KAWS’s ‘BFF’ character, reproduced as an edition toy in a mini Dior suit. KAWS has also collaborated with the Campana brothers on a range of furniture covered in plush toys, which debuted at Art Basel Miam.

10. His work sells for as little as $15 and as much as $2.4 million!

KAWS collaborations

KAWS often teams up with NIGO, originally of BAPE fame, and currently working for Uniqlo. His current collection with the Japanese brand sees him recreating Sesame Street characters on a collection of T-shirts, sweatshirts, hoodies, and toys. All priced under $50, the pieces feature the tagline, ‘You’re never too old for the street’. His artwork sold at auctions such as Christies fetches up to $2,412,500, almost five times its high estimate.

KAWS companion toys

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