Brian Donnelly, born in 1974, is a New York - based artist, professionally known as KAWS. After graduating from the School of Visual Arts in New York, his first job was as a freelance animator, painting backgrounds for Disney. In the 1990's, KAWS began his artistic career as a graffiti artist, subverting imagery on billboards, bus shelters and phone booth advertisements. At first, these reworked ads lasted for several months, but as KAWS’ popularity skyrocketed, the ads became increasingly sought after.
In 1999 KAWS began to design and produce his first limited-edition vinyl toys with Japanese clothing brands and companies. That seemed to be the right country for the beginning of his career, because in Japan, the toys genre is well respected and widespread. This particular artistic production by KAWS began in the wake of contemporary artist Takashi Murakami, today a great friend of his. KAWS says that his predilection in creating toys and little objects derives from the work of two artists in particular: Superflat master Takashi Murakami and Pop artist Claes Oldenburg, both famous for their fine art and playful objects made in large editions. With time, the toys which he first started with, have gained popularity and have become more and more recognizable, leading him to several collaborations in different commercial fields.
KAWS' work is characterized by repeating images, all meant to be universally understood, surpassing languages and cultures. He is greatly influenced by iconic characters from modern pop culture. KAWS uses four main characters: Companion, Accomplice, Chum and Bendy. They riff on Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny, the Michelin Man and a giant spermatozoa. Their relationship to Donnelly hovers somewhere between avatar, id, conscience and inner child.
KAWS’ work treads the fine line between art, commerce, cartoons, and commercials. It distorts, yet at the same time, pays homage to, all the popular objects and icons produced, bought, sold, exchanged, desired, and cherished; the essence of American consumerism. His artworks transform iconic pop culture characters into thought-provoking works of art. His work possesses a sophisticated humor while employing a refined graphic language that revitalizes figuration with bold gestures, playful and cartoonish images. This artistic process recalls what Andy Warhol and other pop artists used to do by projecting their art toward the concept of consumerism and of American lifestyle.
A graffiti artist, illustrator, toy-maker, sculptor and painter, KAWS is now a world-renowned artist, who exhibits in museums and galleries internationally.