Contemporary Art

A Couch Gag Monumentalized: KAWS’s Largest KIMPSONS Painting

By Sotheby's
Captured in mid-air, suspended at the apex of their projectile trajectory, the KIMPSON family flails with a comic helplessness amplified by their X-ed out eyes, a signature of the artist. The impact is unknown. No context is given. What is at stake is simply the instantly recognizable cartoon silhouettes and the iconic flash of yellow.

U NTITLED (KIMPSONS #1) is the largest work amongst KAWS’s (a.k.a. Brian Donnelly’s) iconic KIMPSONS paintings. Commissioned by NIGO® in 2004 and created at a critical juncture of the artist's career, the KIMPSONS works were the first formal paintings on canvas created by KAWS. Painted by hand with Chromacolour paint, a unique acrylic pigment primarily used by animators, these KIMPSONS paintings manifest as the quintessence of the artist’s anarchic painterly enterprise.

The KIMPSONS works stem from the year 2001, coinciding with KAWS’s first solo exhibition in Tokyo. These first works were miniature in size. Titled THE PACKAGE PAINTING SERIES, they were inspired by a beloved animated sitcom and presented in the same kind of plastic blister packaging used by toy manufacturers. KAWS’s first official infiltration into the realm of ‘fine’ art, therefore, was an orchestrated entrance that cleverly negotiated the parameters between painting and product, fine art and commerce.

It was during this enormously productive and inspired period in his career that KAWS developed a close personal and professional relationship with Tomoaki Nagao, a.k.a. NIGO®, founder of A Bathing Ape®, a.k.a. BAPE. It was to NIGO® that KAWS turned to for expertise when he was producing the packages for his PACKAGE PAINTINGS, and for the same exhibition, KAWS designed a small BAPE head pillow. Shortly after that, NIGO® not only purchased a KIMPSONS painting but also became the first to commission a series of large-scale acrylic KIMPSONS paintings from the artist.

The present work installed at the the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts Museum (PAFA), 2013. Photo courtesy to Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Barbara Katus
KAWS wearing Krusty mask, in front of UNTITLED (KIMPSONS #1) , 2004.

The present UNTITLED (KIMPSONS #1) is the first and largest of these commissioned canvas works by NIGO®, marking it a touchstone within KAWS’s career. It is a work of consummate hybrid imagery. The fact that it was commissioned by one of the most visionary cultural entrepreneurs of our time imbues the piece with heightened dimensions and extraordinary significance.

KAWS shows his wit, vision and irreverence in UNTITLED (KIMPSONS #1), which crisscrosses an ever-expanding network of humanity – from the artist to NIGO®, from cartoon characters to the American public, and from the hitherto enclosed sphere of fine art to street art to television and to the entire world. It is a gargantuan apotheosis of the brilliant insurgence of one of the most influential artists of our time.

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