Appropriating cartoon characters, such as the Michelin Man, the Simpsons, Mickey Mouse, and as in Untitled (MBFH1), a close-up of Peanuts’ Woodstock, KAWS uses iconic figures to develop a Pop art sensibility with rich cultural commentary. The artist has described how, “Even though I use a comic language, my figures are not always reflecting the idealistic cartoon view that I grew up on, where everything has a happy ending… I think when I’m making work it also often mirrors what is going on with me at that time. Things change – sometimes it’s tense in the studio, other times things are good. I want to understand the world I’m in and, for me, making and seeing art is a way to do that” (KAWS in: Exh. Cat., Fort Worth, Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, KAWS: WHERE THE END STARTS, 2016, p. 5). The rendering of Woodstock in Untitled (MBFH1) is done to such a high degree of finish that it recalls Andy Warhol’s factory approach in which there is no evidence of the artist’s hand. Despite the apparently manufactured image, KAWS painted it by hand, patiently layering each area of monochrome colour with a stunning deftness.
In addition to artistic predecessors like Claes Oldenburg, Tom Wesselmann, and Jeff Koons, KAWS has expressed the major influence he received from Keith Haring. KAWS adopted Haring’s politically-imbued Pop art and even used the artist’s Pop Shop as an inspiration for his own boutique shop/line OriginalFake. In his practice, KAWS builds upon the legacy of these pioneering artists who questioned the consumerist tendencies of modern society, establishing his signature style in the third generation of the Pop art movement. Just as Keith Haring’s classic radiant baby and barking dog permeated culture in the 1980s, KAWS cartoon figures are now icons of our time.
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