Brian Donnelly, also known as KAWS, has been an international leading figure in the street art world since the late 1990s.
KAWS is a pop artist whose work challenges the constructs of high and low art. He often uses well-known cartoon figures in his work, including characters from The Simpsons, SpongeBob SquarePants, and Mickey Mouse.
He is a frequent collaborator with a broad variety of brands; his work can be seen in places as varied as the cover art for Kanye West’s ‘808s & Heartbreak’ album and a set of custom Air Jordans for Nike.
Brian Donnelly, known more commonly as KAWS, has been an international leader in the street art world for several decades. KAWS began as a graffiti artist, tagging his now-iconic cartoonish figures around the New York and New Jersey area. He next developed screen-printed lithographs playing on popular '90s advertisements (which he called "subvertising"), which over time became a predominant theme in his work.
Through mass production of pieces and making them easily available to the public, KAWS built up a diverse fan base of people largely uninvolved in the institutional art world. As a result, he is often compared to fellow New York-based artists Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat, both of whom challenged the concepts of high and low art and object fetishism. As KAWS told the Independent, “Frieze and Comic Con – what’s the difference? It’s a different crowd, a different dress, a different network, but honestly? It’s just making work and putting it into a room.”
KAWS’s 2011 toy ‘COMPANION,’ featuring the X-shaped eyes and exhausted demeanor now classic in KAWS’s work, was made in an edition of 500 and sold out almost immediately. Ever since, ‘COMPANION’ has become an important symbol in the KAWS lexicon.
The KAWS brand has exploded since the turn of the century, beginning with collaborations with Supreme and Bathing Ape. His work can be seen in practically every level of art and culture, from the cover of Kanye West’s ‘808s & Heartbreak’ album to his custom Air Jordans for Nike. His commercially successful and available work, while it may make “the art world uncomfortable,” draws collectors, critics, and voracious fans from all over the world.