KAWS Buying Guide

KAWS is the graffiti artist turned contemporary art superstar. KAWS, whose real name is Brian Donnelly, has become one of the most successful artists of the 21st century with over 3 million followers on Instagram and his work selling for as little as $50 at Uniqlo last year and up to $14 million at auction. He was born in Jersey City, New Jersey in 1974 and raised in Easton, Pennsylvania, KAWS began tagging his ‘Companion’ character as a teenager.

 

From the catwalk to the gallery, KAWS is now gaining popularity worldwide among collectors and critics alike. With his prices set to skyrocket even more, now is the time to acquire one of his ingenious pieces, which straddles the line between high and low art by blurring it.

“As far as my opinion on galleries, I think they are a great thing . I see them as another outlet. I’m sure by now you’ve figured out that I do my work for everybody to see. That’s the whole point.”

 

You might recognise the work of KAWS from your trips to New York City’s Canal Street district. His ‘Companion’ figures – a Mickey Mouse-style character with an oversized head and crossed-out eyes – are a common sight there. The artist himself has said that the character is partly based on Mickey Mouse, but “has an element of violence to it”.

 

KAWS rose to fame in 1994 when he was just 19 years old and still at school, his work gaining attention for its confrontation with Disney characters. Soon after, he began producing work for Andy Warhol’s Factory and the musician Pharrell Williams. By 1998, KAWS was exhibiting in galleries such as Deitch Projects and had opened his own store on Prince Street in SoHo where he sold clothing featuring his ‘Companion’ design. Having achieved success with graffiti art, KAWS turned his hand to sculptural works. His ‘Blind Skateboarder’, which debuted at the ‘Unnatural History’ exhibition at Deitch Projects in 1999, is a clear predecessor of his ‘Companion’ figures and can be seen as symbolic of the artist taking an important step in the direction he continues to take today.

 

KAWS’ ‘Companion’ characters have since become his primary output, having made their way into high-end retail stores worldwide and appearing on catwalks by Louis Vuitton, Comme des Garcon PLAY and even in Dior’s Pre-Fall 2012 collection designed by Raf Simons. The artist’s work was even used in a recent advertising campaign by Uniqlo containing a range of graphic T-shirts and hoodies with his designs on them. Here, they appeared alongside the likes of Snoop Dogg, Kirsten Dunst and Pharrell Williams, further exposing his work to the masses.

 

Uniqlo’s profits from these T-shirts were donated to Save The Children with KAWS stating that the charity “helps provide comfort and security for children around the world, working towards a future where all children are treated equally.”

KAWS Prints

Popular among KAWS’ oeuvre are his ‘print’ works which he has been releasing since 2002. These take the form of either screenprints or lithographs and often feature his ‘Companion’ character. They have been produced in small editions and released through contemporary art galleries, making them highly sought-after by collectors. Many of KAWS’ prints are based on well-known paintings, such as ‘The KAWS Album’ which is based on Warhol’s ‘ Cowboys and Indians’ series, or ‘Kurt Cobain’ which is based on Edvard Munch’s ‘The Scream’. These appropriations serve to subvert the original paintings and add a new layer of meaning to them.

KAWS has also released prints in collaboration with other artists. Interestingly, KAWS’ prints are highly collectible and have been known to sell for high prices at auction. In 2015, his ‘Fatal Attraction’ print sold for $14 million at auction, setting a new record for the artist.

KAWS Sculptures

In addition to his prints, KAWS has also produced a number of large-scale sculptures. These are often based on his ‘Companion’ character and are produced in either bronze or cast aluminum.

KAWS’ sculptures are often displayed in public spaces and have been seen in a number of high-profile locations such as Rockefeller Center in New York City, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington D.C., and the Yuz Museum in Shanghai.

KAWS Painting

As well as sculpture and prints, KAWS has also produced a number of paintings. These are often based on his ‘Companion’ character and are executed in either acrylic or oil paint on canvas. KAWS’ paintings have been exhibited in a number of galleries and museums including the Brooklyn Museum, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. KAWS’ paintings are often large in scale and make use of bright, bold colors. This is in contrast to his smaller-scale prints which often feature a limited color palette.

KAWS has said of his paintings that “they’re very immediate, they’re very now. They don’t have any history to them.” This could be seen as a reflection of the artist’s own background in graffiti art where tags and slogans are often used to mark territory or communicate a message in the here and now.

KAWS Toys

In addition to his paintings, sculptures, and prints, KAWS has also produced a number of collectible toys. These are based on his ‘Companion’ character and are produced in either PVC or vinyl. KAWS’ toys are often released in limited editions and have become highly sought-after by collectors. In some cases, they have even been known to sell for high prices at auction. KAWS’ toys are not just collectibles; they are also works of art in their own right. Many of them feature intricate details and are produced to a high standard of craftsmanship.

 KAWS’ toys can be found in the collections of a number of museums including the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Brooklyn Museum, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. KAWS has said of his toys that “they’re like little sculptures that you can hold in your hand.” This is reflective of the artist’s own background in sculpture where he often produces small-scale works in addition to his large-scale pieces.

KAWS TOGETHER FIGURE features the iconic KAWS “Companions” interlocked in a permanent hug. This figure is now available in three colorways, giving you the chance to add this highly coveted one into your KAWS collection. 

The KAWS GONE FIGURE features KAWS’s most popular character, the companion, carrying what appears to be a lifeless version of one of his other popular characters, the BFF. KAWS GONE FIGURES are now available in three colorways, giving you the chance to mix the traditional Companion and BFF colorways.

THE MOST HYPED ANTICIPATED COLLECTIBLE OF 2020. Marking COMPANION’s 20th anniversary, the iconic and one and only COMPANION dons an astronaut suit and takes a sounding balloon 41.5 kilometres up into the Stratosphere. 

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