KAWS - Modern & Contemporary Art Day Sale Hong Kong Saturday, June 1, 2024 | Phillips
  • “I’m not seeing SpongeBob at all, and it’s weird to have someone connect it to the TV show because I forget that that’s how the viewer relates. Now I’m abstracting it and making it more about colour and shape”.
    — KAWS


    KAWS’s Perfectly Clear is an outstanding example of one of the artist’s many virtuosically composed, constantly inventive reworkings of pop culture imagery, in this case of the cartoon icon SpongeBob SquarePants. On its own, the elongated format, tightly controlled balance of lines and colours, and startling formal entrapment of a normally upbeat, all-too-familiar fictional character all deliver a striking visual impact: the artist has once again taken the bright, elastic aesthetics of classic animation and combined it with the disorienting visual daring of Modernist painting. 
    Its interest is heightened, however, by its inclusion in his first solo museum exhibition at the The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in 2011. There, it was part of a much larger installation with over a dozen other SpongeBob revisions: these dramatically varied in size, shape, and treatment: some cropped other areas of the character’s face; some exploded him into small pieces; some interrupted these with vibrant, Mondrian-esque bars of blue or yellow, actually even bigger close-ups of his eyes and tongue. None of KAWS’s works exist in a vacuum: they not only keep adjusting our vision of fine art and mass media but, seen in larger series, display an even greater visual ambition, panache, and rhythmic interplay.
    KAWS Installation view of the artwork as part of KAWS' solo exhibition at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum
    Artwork: © KAWS 


    Though best initially known as a graffiti artist, bringing his disruptive aesthetic to magazine and corporate spreads, Brian Donnelly also started out as a background painter for an animation studio while studying to be an artist, completing work on the likes of 101 Dalmatians and Doug. The slow pace of this work made him notice how different their visuals could appear frame-by-frame, without the distractions of narrative or sound, and even afterwards he would watch cartoon DVDS in slow motion to study this further: ‘A close-up of a smiling figure might appear not only abstract, but a little twisted psychologically, a property he would later exploit'i.


    This influenced his own classic, emotionally complex mascots, such as Companion and Chum, and would deepen further when Pharrell Williams asked him to paint SpongeBob: ‘I never would have imagined that it would make its way into so many works, but, just aesthetically, I was taken by the forms’ii. Not a particular fan of the show, it has nevertheless become a favourite motif for him, as he noticed its similarity with much older classics of the 1930s and 40s and the enormous potential of their basic abstract designs -simple but immediately recognisable designs with many ways to electrify. In this, he carries on the vivid cultural assimilations of Warhol and Pop Art, and the endless creative possibilities offered by reshaping established media, but combines it with the rhythmic, primal visual brilliance of Abstract Expressionism.



    Piet Mondrian, Composition, 1929, Guggenheim Museum, New York.
    Image: Peter Barritt / Alamy Stock Photo


    Since his 2011 exhibition at the Aldrich, KAWS has risen to become one of the world’s most famous artists, with over 4 million followers on Instagram and an auction record of US$14.77 million. He has also enjoyed hugely popular museum shows at Brooklyn Museum with KAWS: WHAT PARTY (2021), and the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth with KAWS: WHERE THE END STARTS (2016 – 2017), and his connections to Warhol will be further explored in a major Warhol Museum exhibition throughout this year: KAWS + Warhol, 18 May 2024 – 20 January 2025.



    iMichael Auping, ‘America’s Cartoon Mind’, in Where the End Starts: KAWS, eds. Andrea Karnes and Marla Price, Texas, 2017, p. 68

    iiKAWS in conversation with Pharrell Williams, 22 January 2016, in Where the End Starts: KAWS, eds. Andrea Karnes and Marla Price, Texas, 2017, p. 83

    • Provenance

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

    • Exhibited

      Ridgefield, The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, KAWS, 27 June 2010 - 2 January 2011

    • 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.  

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signed and dated 'KAWS.. 10' on the reverse
acrylic on canvas
165 x 60 cm. (60 x 24 in.)
Painted in 2010.

Full Cataloguing

HK$2,500,000 - 3,500,000 

Sold for HK$2,286,000

Contact Specialist

Anastasia Salnikoff
Associate Specialist, Head of Day Sale
+852 2318 2014

Modern & Contemporary Art Day Sale

Hong Kong Auction 1 June 2024