THE ART PLUG EDITORIAL: KAWS
The artist KAWS (Brian Donnelly) is well known and respected in the both the contemporary art world, the luxury brand space, and the street art community where he initially made his name. In the late 1990s, Donnelly became famous in the streets for modifying billboards, bus shelters, and phone booths with his trademark figurative characters. Among the most famous of these characters is a clown-esque figure loosely modeled after Mickey Mouse that the artist calls the Companion.
Created in 1999, the Companion character has been somewhat of a constant theme for Donnelly over the past two decades, and has manifested itself in everything from street art to sculpture to limited edition toys—some of which are for sale at Marcel Katz Art, and always a popular item.
The open edition Companion toys come in two main styles—regular and flayed, which is to say a version of the toy where the the body is dissected with one part showcasing the cartoon innards of the character. The flayed Companions deepen the narrative of a character whose own history runs concurrent with the artist’s rise to fame.
Case in point: the Companion marks the first time the artist made sculptural work of any sort, after years of working in 2-D in the streets.
“The first time I made a toy was the first time I got to see my work in 3-dimensional form,” Donnelly said in a 2012 interview with Pharrell Williams.
The Companion was also featured in the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards, where the artist reconfigured MTV’s iconic Moonman trophy to take the form of his character. This model was additionally used to erect a 60-foot tall inflatable version of the Companion. In a sense, the collaboration completes the Companion’s journey through culture, which started with graffiti and made it all the way to MTV.
In addition to the Companion, Donnelly has reworked many iconic characters into bright pop art, including the Smurfs, the Michelin Man, Snoopy, and SpongeBob SquarePants. In the process, Donnelly has become a corporate mainstay, collaborating on limited edition items with brands including Nike, Hennessy, and UNIQLO. Donnelly’s 2008 Nike collaboration, where the artist created his version of the Air Force 1 and Air Max 90 sneakers, solidified his stature as a creative whose work can manifest in many forms.
An avid art collector, Donnelly’s personal collection features an expertly curated selection of pop artists who surely influenced the artist at one point in his career. R. Crumb pieces sit next to Ed Ruscha and the legendary cartoon-informed artist Peter Saul, who is a particular favorite of Donnelly.
“I have Sauls everywhere,” KAWS told The New York Times in a 2013 interview about his collection. “It’s crazy how much stuff today looks like his work.”
Surely, many now say the exact same about the work of KAWS.