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Who Is Kaws and What Are His Most Famous Works?

December 26 2022 – Dervis Akdemir

 

We can name Kaws as one of the most creative artists of our time. He is an artist who doesn't follow the contemporary currents of art but rather creates his unique style by bending the very definition of art and its purpose.

Kaws began his career making street art and graffiti. With his unique style, he became a well-known artist producing limited-edition props out of mainstream pop-culture images. Exhibited at museums and galleries throughout Europe, Japan, and the US, Kaws gained a reputation with his creative works.

 

A Brief Biography of Kaws

 

 

Brian Donnelly, known professionally as Kaws, is a notable artist and limited-edition toy and clothing designer whose works are displayed at many exhibitions worldwide. He was born in Jersey City, NJ, in 1974. By watching other children from his community draw graffiti on the walls, Donnelly developed an interest in graffiti and street art at a young age.

As Kaws grew, his interest in art became influenced by various styles, movements, and artists. Gerhard Richter, Claes Oldenberg, Chuck Close and other painters were some of the primary artists who influenced the young Kaws.

Kaws's career began in New York, where he moved to study art. He obtained his BFA from the School of Visual Arts in New York in 1996. After his graduation, Kaws began working as a freelance artist, having the opportunity to work for Disney and make animated backgrounds for their well-known animations.

 

 

However, animations for famous firms weren't the only form of art Kaws produced in New York. He practised illegal graffiti, which significantly influenced his artistic style and later works. As his works gained popularity, the demand for Kaws's graffiti grew globally.

As Kaws's reputation grew, he travelled to Europe and Asia to make graffiti. His impressive work and unique style earned him the Pernod Liquid Art Award, which offers a grant to new artists. Gaining significant fame and success as a young artist encouraged Kaws to create some of the best pop art pieces of our time.

In the late 90s, Kaws started to design limited-edition toys and clothes. He created props for well-known companies, including Nike, Vans, A Bathing Ape and Original Fake. Kaws also made redesigns of famous characters like Mickey Mouse, the Smurfs, SpongeBob, and the Simpsons.

 

 

In addition to his acrylic paintings and digital works, Kaws made large-scale sculptures too. One of the most famous sculptures of Kaws was an enormous grey figure based on Mickey Mouse -called COMPANION. The artist sold some of his works for considerable amounts; one of his sculptures, entitled Wonderful World, sold for $400,000 during his exhibition OriginalFAke.

Some even likened Kaws to Andy Warhol due to his commercial success in creating and selling pieces in various art forms, from acrylic paintings to statues. He had a travelling exhibition named Beautiful Losers that toured throughout Europe and the US. The artist currently lives and works in Brooklyn, NY.

 

Kaws’s Artistic Style

 

Through the years, Kaws developed his own unique artistic style. Most of his works contain recurring themes and features. They usually all include mainstream pop culture figures reworked and transformed. Kaws's works often hold an eerie ambience with objects designed to give the feeling something went wrong. Another common feature of his works is the use of bright and contrasting colours.

Kaws usually reworks, even deforms, the characters or images he works on. One of the signature features of Kaws's works is the use of his so-called Companion-visage, crossed-eyed faces shaped like a skull with crossbones. Since Kaws worked as an animator for Disney, most of his works show influences from Disney animations.

 

8  Most Iconic Works of Kaws

 

Here’s a list of Kaws’s most famous works from the most expensive to the least:

 

  1. The Kaws Album
  2. Untitled Kimpsons I
  3. The Walk Home
  4. In the Woods
  5. Armed Away
  6. Kurfs Tangle
  7. Kurf Hot Dog
  8. Untitled Kimpsons

 

8. Untitled (Kimpsons)

 

 

Sold for: $2.2 million
Estimate: $509,600
Date: 2003

 

One of the most famous series of paintings done by Kaws is the Kimpsons, a reimagining of the Simpsons family with a rather eerie touch. In most of the Kimpsons paintings, like the one above, you can see the characters with the iconic companion-visage placed against a dark-blue background.

 

7. Kurf (Hot Dog)

 

 

Sold for: $2.6 million
Estimate: $1.5 million
Date: 2008

 

Here we see one of the Kurfs, the reworked version of the Smurfs. However, with crossed-out eyes and a skull-shaped face, the character isn't as friendly-looking as the original version. The palette and style make the painting look like a genuine scene from a cartoon.

 

6. Kurfs (Tangle)

 

Sold for: $2.7 million
Estimate: $600,000
Date: 2009

 

We see another Kurf in Tangle. However, this one does not appear to be enjoying a hot dog but attempting to break free from ivy-like green tentacles instead. Tangle sold for $2.7 million against an estimate as low as $600,000.

 

5. Armed Away

  

Sold for: $3 million
Estimate: $1.6 million
Date: 2014

 

Armed Away has a confusing style. Although it appears to be an abstraction of random images and colours, a close look would reveal that it includes silhouettes of Tom and Jerry. The painting looks like a combination of different cartoon worlds. Armed Away was first displayed in an exhibition called MAN'S BEST FRIENDS.

 

4. In the Woods

 

Sold for: $3.9 million
Estimate: $1.5 million
Date: 2002

 

In the Woods might be considered one of the darkest works of Kaws. It depicts quite a spooky version of Snow White's world. In the painting, we see Snow White surrounded by different animals; all the characters have the Companion-visage. Such a depiction of Snow White, one of the most popular Disney princesses, is a reference to Kaws's early career as an animator at Disney.

 

3. The Walk Home

 

Sold for: $6 million
Estimate: $600,000
Date: 2012

 

The Walk Home contains SpongeBob SquarePants, one of the most beloved animated characters, screaming with his hands raised. We see many severed arms surrounding frightened SpongeBob. Although SpongeBob has crossed eyes, the painting doesn't include all the features of Kaws's Companion-visage.

 

2. Untitled (Kimpsons 1)

 

Sold for: $7.4 million
Estimate: $617,000
Date: 2004

 

This painting from Kaws' Kimpsons series depicts all the characters in mid-air. Kimpsons 1 features the same elements as most other Kimpsons paintings, the Companion-visage and the dark-blue background. It was sold in October 2019 for $7.4 million, exceeding its low estimate.

 

1. The KAWS Album

 

Sold for: $14.8 million
Estimate: $1 million
Date: 2005

 

The painting is a mix of different pop culture imagery; we see the Kimpsons, the reworked versions of the Simpsons family recreating the Yellow Album of the Simpsons, which was a parody of the Beatles' album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club. Kaws's COMPANION can also be seen in the lower-left part of the painting, replacing the green figurine in the original Yellow Album.

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