Mickey Mouse, Bart Simpson, and Snoopy with crosses instead of eyes: figures like these made the US artist KAWS one of the most famous representatives of Pop Art. He began his career as a street artist in New York until he turned largely to the design of art toys.


Biography of KAWS

Brian Donnelly – the man behind the pseudonym KAWS – was born on November 4, 1974 in Jersey City, New Jersey. As a teenager, he used the tag KAWS among the graffiti he left around his hometown. After graduating from high school, he studied illustration at the School of Visual Arts in New York City, earning a bachelor’s degree in 1996. He then worked briefly for Disney subsidiary Jumbo Pictures, for which he painted the backgrounds for the TV series “101 Dalmatians”,  among other things.

While he pursued his job during the day, he created graffiti on advertising posters, bus stops, and telephone booths at night. He altered the original messages and reinterpreted them ironically. Initially, he did this in New York and New Jersey, but over time he also left his artwork in other cities such as Paris, Berlin, and Tokyo.

Toy figures led to international breakthrough for KAWS

By the end of the 1990s, KAWS had finally arrived on the art scene. In 1997 he quit his job at Jumbo Pictures, and in 1999 he designed his first Art Toy: Companion, a gray figure with the body of Mickey Mouse and a skull with X-shaped eyes. From then on, this motif was the trademark of KAWS. In this way, he also worked on other pop-culturally relevant characters such as Snoopy from the Peanuts or SpongeBob. With the “Kimpsons” he also created his own version of the “Simpsons”. In 2006, KAWS founded the label OriginalFake in collaboration with the Japanese toy manufacturer Medicom Toys, with which he sold his figures. In 2013, OriginalFake ended its activity.

KAWS with worldwide museum collections and collaborations

Various museums around the world have shown KAWS work, and some of his pieces are in the permanent collections of the Brooklyn Museum, the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, and the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego. KAWS created oversized versions of his Companion figures for exhibitions in Switzerland, the United Kingdom, China, and Spain. In April 2019, his painting “The Kaws Album” went under the hammer at Sotheby’s in Hong Kong for around $14.7 million. This is the highest amount a work by KAWS has fetched to date. The painting is an interpretation of the cover of the Beatles album “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” with characters from “The Simpsons”.

KAWS also regularly devotes himself to collaborations with other artists and companies. For example, he designed Air Jordan sneakers, clothing for Uniqlo, cognac bottles for Hennessy, and perfume bottles for Comme des Garçons. In 2008, he designed the cover of Kanye West’s album “808s & Heartbreak”.

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