KAWS could be incorrectly categorized as part of the trending sweep of street artists now housed in gallery settings. However, as a classically trained artist who attended traditional art school in New York, KAWS, born as Brian Connelly, is a bit of an oddball.
Citing inspiration from Claes Oldenburg, KAWS produces visual works that are culturally relevant and historically perceptive. His trained eye have aided him in creating iconic pieces like “Perils” and entire roomfuls of cartoon-inspired silhouettes. He’s also produced 3D sculptures and installations stationed in public spaces all over the world.
KAWS recognizes contemporary musical artist Pharrell Williams as a source of influence as well. Their recent collaboration on a women’s perfume fragrance is just one example of the close ties the two share. The well-to-do Williams purportedly has a houseful of original KAWS art, so much that it is almost overwhelming. His Miami apartment includes several full-size sculptures and colorful cartoon inspired wall pieces.
What makes KAWS work standout in the contemporary art world and attract plush collectors such as Williams?
His prolific art making habits and the pure size of many of his large scaled creations are two traits that come to mind. Some liken him to Andy Warhol, others to Jeff Koons, but ultimately collectors have gone wild over his art in either case.
One interesting path that KAWS has taken in his commercial art is toy production. He has created a series of vinyl toy figurines referred to by the name “Companion.” Some of the figures are playful inspirations reminiscent of Mickey Mouse with funny elephant ears and KAWS signature “X” eyes.
With the high price tag on KAWS original vinyl figures, and its limited run, collectors even have a hard time finding this rare pieces. Ebay and other second hand markets tout plenty of fakes — replicas with minor features distinguishing them from the real thing. Independent toy designers like KAWS have often had difficulty when it comes to handling creative theft, so the high price for originals may be well reflected. This might be the reason why he suddenly ceased production late 2013. He continues prominently feature the Companion characters, most recently at Clean Slate, opening in Hong Kong. See image below, via Arrested Motion.
There is a certain amount of parody in KAWS work — his regular references to popular cartoon characters, for instance. Yet, there is also a high level of thought about placement of compositions, hue and shading choices, and venue exhibition. The result is a blend of pop, punk, and sub-culture comedy that appeals to a wide mass of socio-economic polarities.