Works by KAWS at Sotheby's
Born Brian Donnelly in 1974 in New Jersey, artist and designer Kaws studied illustration at the School of Visual Arts in New York. After graduating, he worked briefly as a freelance illustrator on Disney’s 101 Dalmatians and the animated series Daria and Doug. He began using the name Kaws as a young graffiti artist in Jersey City. It was not until after he relocated to New York City in the 1990s that he began employing “subvertising,” a practice of parodying and spoofing corporate and political advertisements on billboards, phone booths, and bus shelters; his subvertising has appeared in cities around the world, including London, Paris, Berlin, and Tokyo. As the popularity of these works increased Kaws would begin producing public installations in addition to street art. For example, KAWS: Holiday, an enormous version of his Companion figure, floated in Victoria Harbor for Art Basel Hong Kong.
Bearing many of the stylistic hallmarks of Pop art, such as the inclusion of characters from Disney and SpongeBob SquarePants as well as iconic advertisement personas like the Michelin Man, Kaws’s paintings, prints, and sculptures have been compared to those of Takashi Murakami and Jeff Koons. One such pop painting is THE KAWS ALBUM (2005) featuring his parody of The Simpsons renamed as The Kimpsons, all posed to recreate The Beatle’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover. This referential piece went on to fetch $14.8 million at auction.
His method of repeating iconic imagery is an attempt to make works universally understood, to transcend both language and culture. Further obscuring the boundary between subvertisement and advertisement in the art world, Kaws has undertaken several commercial collaborations, beginning with the production of a vinyl toy for the Japanese clothing brand Bounty Hunter alongside Medicom Toys. Other notable collaborations have included the redesign of the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards statuette, a unisex perfume with Pharrell Williams and Comme des Garcons, and an affordable t-shirt and accessories collection for the clothing brand Uniqlo in 2016.
In addition to his avid popularity with streetwear art collectors, Kaws’s works can be found in the collections of the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego, the Brooklyn Museum, and the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. Kaws’s work has become increasingly popular, and according to Sotheby’s Mei Moses, the average compound annual return for Kaws is 16.2%, with 100% of works increasing in value.