I n scenes more reminiscent of a Black Friday sale, viral videos last week showed just how much of a moment the colourful work of KAWS is having. The social media frenzy was caused by videos of chaotic crowds in China, desperate to get their hands on a piece from the artist's latest collection with high street brand Uniqlo: the third – and final – KAWS x Uniqlo collaboration, which sold out in minutes.
The Brooklyn-based artist, whose real name is Brian Donnelly, began as a graffiti and street artist but is now famous for his alternative riffs on well-known cartoons. As Alex Branczik, Sotheby’s Senior Director of European Head of Contemporary Art told Esquire: "KAWS navigates seamlessly between street culture, high art and the mass commercial market. His references to popular culture truly capture the essence of zeitgeists past and present, subverting cartoon heroes to reinforce the idea that he makes no distinction between concepts of ‘high’ and ‘low’ art."
Demand for KAWS is high at both end of the price spectrum. In October last year, Sotheby's sold his Again and Again painting featuring Spongebob Squarepants for a record-breaking $1.03 million in London, and he has also worked with Kim Jones, creative director of Dior on catwalk shows and the spring/summer 2019 collection.
The Uniqlo mania is further proof of the artist's popularity in Asia after his parody of The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper album cover, in the style of The Simpsons, was sold by Sotheby's Hong Kong this April for $14.7 million, $13.7 million over its estimate.
Other cartoons receiving the KAWS treatment – usually wearing white gloves and with crosses for eyes –include Mickey Mouse, Spongebob Squarepants and characters from Sesame Street, The Simpsons and Peanuts.