KAWS - 20th Century & Contemporary Art & Design Day Sale Hong Kong Tuesday, June 21, 2022 | Phillips

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  • “When I was younger, I wasn’t going to galleries, I wasn’t going to museums … There was a lot of ‘this is fine art’ or ‘this is not fine art’; ‘this is commercial’, ‘this is high art’. In my mind I thought, art’s purpose is to communicate and reach people. Whichever outlet that’s being done through is the right one.”
    — KAWS

    Originating from the skateboard and graffiti culture of New York City in the 1990s, KAWS has since established himself as a pop culture phenomenon. By reimagining the timeless appearances of well-loved characters, KAWS employs the potency of classic cartoons to recall childhood memories and nostalgia, simultaneously calling into question the relevance of originality and brand imagery in contemporary art.



     The present work (on the right) exhibited at Los Angeles, Honor Fraser, KAWS: THE LONG WAY HOME, 21 February – 4 April 2009
    Image Courtesy of Honor Fraser


    First shown at KAWS’s solo show at the Honor Fraser Gallery in Los Angeles in 2009, KURF (PACKAGE PAINTING SERIES) is a playful twist on the Smurfs cartoon, created by Belgian comics artist Peyo. In bright, bold acrylics, KAWS reimagines the little blue creature with the artist’s signature skull-like head marked with X-ed out eyes, as if he has just drunk from a vial of poison. Held in a tight, knuckle-gripping tight clutch of a hand, though the work invites viewers to reminiscence on childhood innocence, it is simultaneously tinged with a more sinister-twist.



    Opening credits, The Smurfs, 1981


    Drawing inspiration from Pop artists such as Andy Warhol, who appropriated mass-culture imagery, and Roy Lichtenstein, whose work emulated comic-strip illustrations, KAWS too, replicates popular icons to evoke a sense of familiarity and, at the same time, prompts viewers to reflect on complex discussions regarding consumerist behaviour and interpretations of modern art.  This is further emphasised by the canvas being contained within a blister packaging with printed backing card, as the materiality of the work mimics that of children’s toy manufacturers, cleverly bridging the opposing worlds of merchandise and fine art by merging their incongruent materials.




    After graduating from the acclaimed School of Visual Arts in New York City in 1996, where the young artist earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in illustration, he briefly took a freelance job at Jumbo Pictures, working on animated pieces for Disney. It was around this time that he adopted the name ‘KAWS’ and began tagging billboard and bus shelter advertisements, modifying the original images at home before putting them back in their casings some days later. Working deliberately with the content of the advertisement as a form of critique and commentary, KAWS’s reimagined alterations were executed in such a skilful manner, the brushstroke-free versions could easily have been mistaken for the initially intended imagery.


    From the start of his career, KAWS has set out to dissolve the purported distinctions between fine art and mass media, culture both high and low. To say that he has managed to demonstrate this would be a considerable understatementKAWS’s delightful, tongue-in-cheek works dominate the luxury art and collectables market. His ascent to international fame has garnered him a devoted and star-studded following, including major industry giants including Nike, Dior, and Uniqlo, of whom he has all collaborated with. His practice has been honoured with extensive exhibitions on an international scale, with recent venues including the Serpentine Galleries, presenting his collaboration with Acute Art and the online video game Fortnite (2022); Skarstedt, New York (2021); the Brooklyn Museum in New York (2021); and the National Gallery of Victoria, Australia (2019-2020).

    • Provenance

      Honor Fraser, Los Angeles
      Private Collection
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Los Angeles, Honor Fraser, KAWS: THE LONG WAY HOME, 21 February – 4 April 2009

    • Literature

      Monica Ramirez-Montagut, KAWS 1993-2010, New York, 2010, p. 38 (illustrated)

    • Artist Biography


      American • 1974

      To understand the work of KAWS is to understand his roots in the skateboard and graffiti crews of New York City. Brian Donnelly chose KAWS as his moniker to tag city streets beginning in the 1990s, and quickly became a celebrated standout in the scene. Having swapped spray paint for explorations in fine art spanning sculpture, painting and collage, KAWS has maintained a fascination with classic cartoons, including Garfield, SpongeBob SquarePants and The Simpsons, and reconfigured familiar subjects into a world of fantasy. 

      Perhaps he is most known for his larger-than-life fiberglass sculptures that supplant the body of Mickey Mouse onto KAWS' own imagined creatures, often with 'x'-ed out eyes or ultra-animated features. However, KAWS also works frequently in neon and vivid paint, adding animation and depth to contemporary paintings filled with approachable imagination. There is mass appeal to KAWS, who exhibits globally and most frequently in Asia, Europe and the United States.  

      View More Works



signed and dated 'KAWS..09' on the reverse
acrylic on canvas in blister package with printed card
45.7 x 38.1 cm. (18 x 15 in.)
Executed in 2009.

Full Cataloguing

HK$1,200,000 - 2,200,000 

Sold for HK$1,890,000

Contact Specialist

Danielle So
Specialist, Head of Day Sale
+852 2318 2027

20th Century & Contemporary Art & Design Day Sale

Hong Kong Auction 21 June 2022