KAWS - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in Association with Poly Auction Hong Kong Tuesday, November 30, 2021 | Phillips
  • “I use the X the same way that Mercedes uses the grille on their cars… You see them in the rearview mirror and just have a glimpse of it, and you know the style of the car going behind you.” 
    — KAWS

    Immediately grabbing the attention of the viewer with its commanding scale and refined graphic style, NEW YORK is a prime example of American artist KAWS’s unique visual language. Fresh to auction, having remained in private hands since the year it was painted, the present work is a rare, original rendering of one of the artist’s most iconic images. As the chosen composition to feature as the cover image of KAWS’s collaboration with New York Magazine for the publication’s 50th anniversary year-long public arts programme—with other invited artists including Alex Katz, Emily Mae Smith, George Condo, Kerry James Marshall, Yoko Ono, and Tschabalala Self—the image most recently featured on a KAWS x COMME de GARÇONS 2021 perfume bottle design. 


  • Animation to Abstraction 


    In a reduced colour palette of Kazimir Malevich-esque ruby red contrasting bright white, KAWS paints a pooling puddle of blood in NEW YORK. Reaching out from beneath the scarlet ripples are a pair of gloved hands marked with the artist’s signature X’s, appearing only moments away from being completely submerged.





    Left: Kazimir Malevich, Painterly Realism of a Peasant Woman in Two Dimensions, 1951
    Collection of the Russian Museum, Saint Petersburg
    Right:  KAWS, KEEP MOVING, 2012
    Sold by Phillips London on 9 March 2018 for £909,000



    Harkening back to KAWS’s 2012-piece, KEEP MOVING, the disembodied hands recall numerous popular culture references that range from ‘Thing’ from the famed The Adamms Family movies to when Star Wars Jedi Luke Skywalker loses his hand during an epic duel. At the same time, whilst the gloves are instantly recognisable as belonging to KAWS’s internationally beloved COMPANION figure, their cartoonish depiction further nods to rubber-hose animation characters whom KAWS presumably takes inspiration from, having previously worked as a freelance animator for Jumbo Pictures.




     The fictional character ‘Thing’ from The Addams Family, 1991


     Luke Skywalker loses his hand, still from Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, 1997



    Following in the footsteps of artists such as Andy Warhol, who famously injected commercial products into spaces of fine art, KAWS taps into the nostalgic warmth of pop-art graphics to imbue the present work with a playful intricacy. Starkly juxtaposing this, however, is the more morbid edge the composition presents which, when considered in relationship to the work’s title, can perhaps be understood as a darkly humoured homage to the city the artist calls home.





    Andy Warhol, Campbell’s Soup Cans (detail), 1962
    Collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York
    © 2021 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Licensed by Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York



    As such, a more apt comparison can arguably be made to the visually striking works of Roy Lichtenstein, who employed comic-strip iconography to explore highly emotive motifs including that of morality and destruction. However, unlike Lichtenstein’s inclusion of text-filled speech bubbles that help convey to the viewer his subject’s inner concerns, KAWS’s compositions are coolly ambiguous, characterised by unexpected twists of the recognisable that help to define his simultaneously endearing and sinister visual world.


    In speaking of the tension that permeates his cartoonish aesthetic, the artist explains ‘even though I use a comic language, my figures are not always reflecting the idealistic cartoon view that I grew up on, where everything has a happy ending...I want to understand the world I’m in and, for me, making and seeing art is a way to do that.’ i





    Roy Lichtenstein, Drowning Girl, 1963
    Collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York
    © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein  





    Nodding to his background as a graffiti-artist provocateur tagging billboards across New York, NEW YORK perfectly showcases KAWS’s striking yet simple signature approach of bold colour and refined line. With this in a mind, an interesting comparison can be made to the work of anonymous British artist Banksy, whom too, is celebrated for his direct visual language that is whimsical yet with a satirical tone.



    But whereas Banksy uses his imagery to convey social or political critique, KAWS’s work instead elicits complex emotional responses as his COMPANION portrayals address the ubiquitous feelings of isolation, anxiety, and the desire for human connection. Moreover, whilst Banksy has become renowned for his spray paint and stencil technique, NEW YORK reveals KAWS’s masterful control over his medium as the sharply painted shapes are executed with swift, calligraphic line that leaves no trace of the artist’s free-handed approach.


    As an exceptional work from one of the most defining and forward-thinking artists of our present age, NEW YORK demonstrates the sophisticated humour that has propelled KAWS to becoming a household name. As curator Michael Auping elucidates:


    "KAWS is not just referring to pop culture, he is making it." 
    — Michael Auping


    How KAWS Became the Face of Contemporary Art, 2017

    Video courtesy of Blueprint



    Collector’s Digest


    Regarded as one of the most important creators of his generation for his ingenuity of reconceptualising some of the world’s most cherished icons, work by KAWS can be found in prominent public collections around the world. This includes the Brooklyn Museum, New York; Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Texas; CAC Malaga; Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego; High Museum of Art, Atlanta; and the Rosenblum Collection, Paris.


    In addition to extensive solo exhibitons around the globe, KAWS’s practice has most recently been honoured with a solo exhibition, KAWS: SPOKE TOO SOON, at Skarstedt in New York (5 November – 11 December 2021). KAWS also recently exhibited a monumental retrospective in his hometown, KAWS: WHAT PARTY, which was hosted by the Brooklyn Museum in New York between 26 February – 5 September 2021.


    Recent solo exhibitions also include the Mori Arts Centre in Tokyo (16 July – 11 October 2021), and a retrospective at the National Gallery of Victoria, Australia (2019-2020). An upcoming exhibition will soon open at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta: KAWS PRINTS, which will run from 3 December 2021 – 27 March 2022.



    Featured as part of Skarstedt, New York, KAWS: SPOKE TOO SOON, 5 November – 11 December 2021, the work showcases themes that extend upon those explored in NEW YORK



    KAWS, as quoted in KAWS. WHERE THE END STARTS, exh. cat., Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Fort Worth, 2016, p.5

    • Provenance

      Skarstedt Gallery, New York
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2018

    • 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

Property from a Prominent New York Collection



signed and dated 'KAWS..18' on the reverse
acrylic on canvas
243.8 x 243.8 cm. (96 x 96 in.)
Painted in 2018.

Full Cataloguing

HK$4,000,000 - 6,000,000 

Sold for HK$5,040,000

Contact Specialist

Charlotte Raybaud
Head of Evening Sale, 20th Century & Contemporary Art
+852 2318 2026

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in Association with Poly Auction

Hong Kong Auction 30 November 2021