KAWS - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in association with Yongle Hong Kong Thursday, December 1, 2022 | Phillips

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  • “When I was doing graffiti, my whole thought was, ‘I just want to exist.’ I want to exist with this visual language in the world […] It meant nothing to me to make paintings if I wasn’t reaching people.”
    — KAWS

    Magnificently grand in its execution, the current work COMPANION is undoubtedly one of the most prized symbols that defines the multidisciplinary oeuvre of art world icon, KAWS. Instantly recognisable with its ‘X’ shaped eyes, the COMPANION works showcases the artist’s distinct approach. By introducing cartoon inspired characteristics to his protagonists, KAWS creates new tensions between the form and context of sculpture whilst taking a sharp divergence away from traditional notions of the medium. Engaging with a myriad of references from popular culture in a uniquely witty way, KAWS’ works are synonymous with contemporary street art culture, as he positions his works as both a celebration and critique of consumerism.



    KAWS, KAWS: HOLIDAY (Changbai Mountain)
    Jilin Province, China, 7-16 January, 2022
    Artwork: © KAWS

    The Origin of the ‘X’

    “I use the X the same way that Mercedes uses the grille on their cars… You see them in the rear-view mirror and just have a glimpse of it, and you know the style of the car going behind you.”
    — KAWS

    Born in New Jersey in 1974, KAWS’s interest in art was shaped by his engagement with skateboarding and graffiti subcultures. Graduating from the New York School of Visual Arts in 1996 (the same school that Keith Haring attended), KAWS first worked as an animator for Jumbo Pictures. After graduation, KAWS began to use artistic intervention as both a social and creative strategy; he saw an opportunity to introduce a new level of dialogue with the consumer through a series of street level interventions, where he reworked advertising posters taken from bus shelters and telephone booths. He would take them out of their cabinets in broad daylight, collecting a variety of posters, returning only when he had amassed a certain volume of completed works. After prying a lock out of one of the advertising hoardings, KAWS had master keys cut by a locksmith, thus giving him the ability to access virtually all the advertising cabinets in New York City and freeing him from the fear of being caught. Such a methodology stirred a far more widespread intervention; people would get up the next day and the whole street would be KAWS, from one end to the other.



    KAWS, UNTITLED (US), 2002
    acrylic on existing advertising poster
    Sold with Phillips Hong Kong on 29 November 2021 for HKD11,745,000
    Artwork: © KAWS


    It was during this exact period that KAWS began to tag the advertising posters found at bus stops on the streets of New York with crossed bones and ‘X’s for eyes. This motif marked the beginnings of KAWS’ trademark style, as exemplified by the current work. COMPANION’s large ‘X’ eyes and skulled head might appear to be intimidating at first, yet its rounded silhouette, smooth surface, along with shorts and shoes all evoke the likings of beloved cartoon characters, giving the work an overwhelmingly endearing quality. This is in turn enhanced by its larger than life scale, transporting the viewer into a toy-like wonderland.



    KAWS discusses the development of his artmaking practises and the incorporation of the skull as a recurring symbol in his work. 


    Collector’s Digest

    “KAWS is not just referring to Pop culture, he is making it.”
    — Michael Auping

    Considered as one of the most iconic and forward-thinking artists of his generation, KAWS is celebrated for his multi-disciplinary practice that subverts the traditions of fine art with street art influences, satirising consumer culture.


    Breaking the ideological hierarchies between the avant-garde and kitsch, KAWS gives his characters life through a variety of mediums including clothing, limited-edition toys, and large-scale sculptures. His works can be found in prominent public collections around the world, including 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.

    KAWS has exhibited extensively around the globe, most recently with solo exhibitions at the Serpentine, London: KAWS: NEW FICTION (digital exhibition) from 18 January - 27 February, 2022; the High Museum of Art in Atlanta: KAWS PRINTS, from 3 December 2021 – 27 March 2022; and Skarstedt Gallery in New York (5 November – 11 December 2021), KAWS: SPOKE TOO SOON. 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. Other 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).

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    • Description

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    • Provenance

      Galerie Perrotin
      Private Collection
      Galerie Perrotin, Hong Kong
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2016

    • Exhibited

      Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, KAWS, 12 October 2013 - 5 January 2014 (another example exhibited)

    • 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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paint on fibreglass
243.8 x 121.9 x 91.4 cm. (96 x 48 x 36 in.)
Executed in 2010, this work is number 2 from an edition of 3 plus 1 artist's proof, and is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity issued by the artist's studio.

Full Cataloguing

HK$6,000,000 - 10,000,000 

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Contact Specialist

Charlotte Raybaud
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+852 2318 2026
[email protected]

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in association with Yongle

Hong Kong Auction 1 December 2022