An unique first have a look at KAWS ‘newest artwork exhibition in New York
“For me, art has always been about communication,” says Brian Donnelly, who you probably met on his graffiti day KAWS. His story as an artist does not begin in the studio, but on the street, where he could speak directly to passers-by. In the mid-1990s, Donnelly’s cartoon characters popped up all over New York, where he studied at the School of Visual Arts, circled Christy Turlington in Calvin Klein ads, and formed the basis for the recurring characters in his work, to which CHUM (an appropriation) owned by the Michelin Man), COMPANION (a character who sometimes wears Mickey Mouse shorts and gloves), and the Kimpsons (a parody of The Simpsons).
With their instantly recognizable Xs to the eye, these characters play out in Donnelly’s graffiti drawings, paintings, smaller collectibles, colossal sculptures, and even furniture. In 2018, he worked with São Paulo-based design duo Campana Brothers to create a series of armchairs and sofas overlaid with KAWS ‘plush toys featured at the DesignMiami art fair and by models such as Kylie Jenner and rapper Travis Scott were promptly picked up.
Although Donnelly is often rejected by critics, he is perhaps one of the most popular contemporary artists. Just ask his 3.2 million Instagram followers or the anonymous bidder who paid $ 14.8 million for the KAWS album at a Sotheby’s auction in 2019 (Donnelly himself doesn’t get anything out of the Sale made). In addition, its bold and playful gestures have proven to be catnip for the fashion world.
He has worked with the likes of A Bathing Ape, Supreme and Nike. For his debut collection at Dior Men, Kim Jones partnered with KAWS and had a 22-foot-tall sculpture of his signature BFF character installed on the catwalk. And for her shirt collection Comme des Garçons in autumn / wine 2021, Rei Kawakubo drizzled shirts, coats and bags with a CDG print, which was designed based on Donnelly’s drawings. “I’ve always liked the way people can have a close connection to your work through fashion,” he says. “It’s one thing to see it on a wall and another to have it printed on clothing.”
Dior Men Spring / Summer 2019.
© Bertrand Rindoff Petroff
This month KAWS: WHAT PARTY opens at the Brooklyn Museum. Billed as the artist’s first major New York poll, it tracks Donnelly’s 25-year career. It shows his latest ventures in augmented reality and enables people from all over the world to connect with his work via the Acute Art app. Before the opening, Donnelly gave Vogue a virtual tour of the exhibition and told his story using selected pieces from the exhibition.
“My early heroes were people like Lee Quiñones, Futura 2000 and Blade – graffiti artists from the late 1970s and early 1980s – you’d see them making a name for themselves and creating a presence for themselves. I don’t consider Keith Haring a graffiti artist, but he has fallen on my radar because of his work on the street and his connection with artists like DONDI. There was a bus stop in my neighborhood for Haring’s show at the Whitney [Museum of American Art] So it was fair game. I liked his democratic approach to making art and how he made it accessible [his store] The pop shop, so it felt natural to paint over your issue. “
“I started painting over advertisements in 1993. I lived in Jersey City with my parents [New Jersey] At the time, the billboards were from Marlboro and Captain Morgan. When I moved to New York in 1996 it was more fashion like DKNY and Calvin Klein. I broke into bus stops and phone booths in my neighborhood, painted over the ads, and then put them back in place. I didn’t want to get into fashion, I just wanted to get my work out into the world. “
UNTITLED (KIMPSONS), PACKAGE PAINTING, 2001
“This was my attempt to connect my different worlds – a painting that functions as a sculptural object and flows into the tradition of the toy. Cartoons exist in different cultures and countries. Children my age in Mexico grew up on the same Smurfs [TV show] that I grew up with. A lot of my pictures are flat, similar to cartoons. I like the feeling that this work creates when you stand in front of it, especially the scale that I’m working on. “
“I originally made the CHUM character in 2002 as a toy. I thought about how Michelin was one of the first companies to deviate from the product and use a character as a representative. I’ve always been interested in how characters – whether in animation or advertising – become identifiable and relatable to people. They have a lifespan that extends well beyond an actor or personality representing a brand. “
“COMPANION was the first toy I designed in 1999. Twenty years later, I never thought that I would still use COMPANION in my work, but I keep finding things that make me want to say. It still feels new to me. “
UNTITLED (KAWS PINOCCHIO), 2010
“There are pen drawings [throughout the exhibition] of pieces I’ve made for different projects. This one from Pinocchio was for a toy I made with Disney in 2010 and sold OriginalFake through my Tokyo store [which was open from 2006 to 2013]. Having a permanent business became a great outlet for me [without having gallery representation] to work with companies like Disney, Warner Bros and Burton. “
AT THIS MOMENT, 2013
“In 2005 I started making small editions of wood with a Japanese company called Karimoku. I made large sized pieces of wood that are more than 10m high. When you see a piece on this scale it’s overwhelming, but at the same time it’s wood and outdoors, so it’s vulnerable and, like a boat, it needs constant maintenance. I like to find the best places to produce my work; The wooden sculptures are cut near Amsterdam and then shipped to Maastricht [in the Netherlands] be done by hand.
THE NEWS, 2017
“This series of nine paintings from 2017 was the tension I felt at that moment. They are colorful and pleasant to look at, but there is that fear built into them too. Has this fear shifted? It has and it hasn’t. I have always recovered from fear and doubt. “
KAWS: HOLIDAY, 2019
“There is something beautiful about a permanent sculpture that you can visit every time you are in town, and a different quality [ephemeral] Work like KAWS: HOLIDAY. This [40m-long inflatable COMPANION figure] was seen at the base of Mount Fuji in Japan for six days after touring Hong Kong, Taipei and Korea. People traveled to see the work and to camp there. This got me interested in AR and started saying “what’s real?” To play. Question.”
URGE (KUB2), 2020
“In March 2020 my wife and I had Covid-19. I was in bed for three weeks. There was all this uncertainty and news about not touching your face, not touching anything. I started drawing CHUM with my hands all over his face – touching and contaminating. It’s supposed to be humorous, but at the same time it’s very stressful. As soon as I got off [of isolation]I transformed the drawings into a series of 10 paintings that are hung up as a grid in the exhibition. “
KAWS: WHAT PARTY runs at the Brooklyn Museum from February 26 to September 5, 2021 and is curated by Eugenie Tsai, Senior Curator of John and Barbara Vogelstein. A fully illustrated catalog will be available starting June 23rd, co-published with Phaidon and featuring exclusive brand new content in five different covers
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