Brian Donnelly (b. 1974), professionally known as KAWS, is a New York-based artist and designer of limited edition toys and clothing. Donnelly graduated from the School of Visual Arts in New York with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in illustration in 1996. After graduation, KAWS briefly worked for Disney as a freelance animator painting backgrounds. He also contributed to the animated series ‘101 Dalmatians,’ ‘Daria,’ and ‘Doug.’ He began his career as a graffiti artist growing up in Jersey City.

Later moving to New York City in the 1990s, KAWS started subverting imagery on billboards, bus shelters and phone booth advertisements. These reworked advertisements were at first left alone, lasting for up to several months, but as KAWS’ popularity skyrocketed, the ads became increasingly sought after. In addition to New York, KAWS has done work in Paris, London, Berlin and Tokyo. KAWS’s ‘Companion,’ a grayscale figure based on Mickey Mouse with his face obscured by both hands, was adapted into a balloon for the 2012 ‘Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade’ as part of the parade’s ‘Blue Sky Gallery’ feature.

In the late 90s, KAWS began to design and produce limited edition vinyl toys, ‘an instant hit with the global art toy-collecting community,’ especially in Japan, where this genre is well respected and widespread. More toys and later clothing were made for ‘Original Fake,’ a recent collaborative store with Medicom Toy, in the Aoyama district of Tokyo where an original limited edition product is released each week. KAWS has also participated in other commercial collaborations with Nigo for ‘A Bathing Ape,’ Jun ‘Jonio’ Takahashi for ‘Undercover,’ Michael ‘Mic’ Neumann for ‘Kung Faux,’ snowboard projects with Burton, and sneakers with Nike and Vans. His most recent collaboration was with Comme des Garçons. KAWS’ acrylic paintings and sculpture have many repeating images, all meant to be universally understood, surpassing languages and cultures.

One of KAWS’ early series, ‘Package Paintings,’ was made in 2000. This series, entitled ‘The Kimpsons,’ subverted the famous American cartoon, ‘The Simpsons.’ KAWS explains that he ‘found it weird how infused a cartoon could become in people’s lives; the impact it could have, compared to regular politics.’ In addition, KAWS has reworked other familiar icons such as Mickey Mouse, the Michelin Man, the Smurfs, and SpongeBob SquarePants. Through all of his projects, KAWS blurs the line between fine art and mass-produced merchandise. He uses his products to infiltrate a larger audience than that of the fine art world.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.