Born in Jersey City, Donnelly counts skateboarding and hip-hop among his earliest influences. While studying painting at the School of Visual Arts in New York in 1994, he was invited by graffiti legend Futura 2000 to join the Brooklyn-based graffiti group IRAK.
He uses the tag name KAWS.
He is best known for his all-black motifs, silhouettes of cartoonish characters with their eyes shut tight. He has collaborated with Nike, Comme des Garçons and Uniqlo on clothing, with Louis Vuitton on handbags, with Apple on laptop design, with Anya Hindmarch, the British luxury accessories brand, on a line of handbags featuring his work.
His artworks are now among the hottest contemporary pieces at auction. New York’s Pace Gallery recently sold four pieces by KAWS for $2.7 million to an anonymous buyer. Last year, a KAWS painting went for $15 million at Christie’s, making it the most expensive work ever by a living artist.
As Donnelly says: “The market has been really good to me. So I would never complain about that stuff.”
Still, one gets the sense that despite considerable press coverage, he still feels overshadowed by the market.
That article was a first-person account about KAWS' feelings toward his popular artworks being sold for high prices at auction, but I have no idea why it is in the "Business" section of The Financial Times. It could have been filed under "Arts and Entertainment." I would have put it under "Business" if I had no idea what "KAWS" was, but after reading the article I know that he is an artist.
"But there are so many things out there,” he continues. “Even with the news on my phone, every time I scroll down it says something stupid.” He pauses for a while, then bursts into laughter. “And then I have to repress that feeling of being overwhelmed because that’s not good for anyone.”
We are in the middle of a "KAWS moment." The artist, who has managed to remain out of the spotlight over two decades in New York, is suddenly everywhere. His work is up all over Paris this month, part of Volez Voguez Voyagez at Galerie Perrotin – the reason for his visit – and a commission by Hermès is due to open in Tokyo.KAWS is a beloved and successful artist and clearly capable of doing his own media relations.