KAWS - Disruptors: Evening Sale of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Design and Watches Hong Kong Thursday, May 25, 2023 | Phillips
  • American artist KAWS has had an incomparable impact on contemporary art history. Known for his instantly recognisable, multidisciplinary works which explore the relationship between fine art and consumer goods, KAWS has been instrumental in bridging the gaps between high art and popular culture. Prodigious in scale, standing at over two metres tall, COMPANION is undoubtedly the most prized creation that defines the multidisciplinary oeuvre of the art world icon.


    Since their inception in KAWS’s oeuvre as early as 1999, his COMPANION figures are now adored the world over, characterised by their X-ed out eyes and skull shaped heads adorned with crossbones. The COMPANION figure has taken numerous forms in his practice throughout KAWS’s career, from eight-inch toy figures to floating in Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbor, napping at the foot of Mount Fuji, holding court in Drake’s Toosie Slide, or featuring in augmented realty. The present work is exclusive in that it stems from a small series of only three, with another work from the same series having been exhibited at the artist’s solo show at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts between October 2013 – January 2014.


     Another example of the present work exhibited at KAWS’s solo show at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts between October 2013 – January 2014



    The Origin of the ‘X’ and KAWS’s COMPANION


     “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


    COMPANION exemplifies KAWS’s unique ability to blur the boundaries between high art and popular culture, which stems from his early artistic interests. 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.


    For his early reworked advertisement works, KAWS would pry open the lock of a bus shelter or billboard display hoarding with the help of a locksmith who supplied him with a set of master keys, granting him easy access to the majority of the city's advertising cabinets. Unconcerned about being caught, KAWS casually removed posters in broad daylight, taking them home to contemplate and labour over before returning them once they were all meticulously rendered to his liking. Often incorporating his signature figure who was recognisable from their X-ed out eyes, KAWS would then place the reworked advertisements back, leaving the public to question if the imagery had been vandalised or was actually the originally intended marketing campaign.


    KAWS’s subversive practice disrupted the system in which people were accustomed to viewing art, and unbeknownst to him at the time, his works were already gaining recognition which would soon reach global proportions.


     KAWS reworking advertisements in New York, 1997, with narration by Ron English.
    Video Courtesy of Daniel Lahoda


    In 1999, KAWS visited Japan after being approached by ‘Bounty Hunter’, the cult toy and streetwear brand. He would go on to design and create his first COMPANION limited edition vinyl ‘toy’, which became an instant hit with the international art-toy collecting community. Over the next two decades, COMPANION has become a cornerstone of his celebrated oeuvre. Of his COMPANIONS, KAWS explains, ‘Even though I use a comic language, my figures are not always reflecting the idealistic cartoon view that I grew up on… COMPANION is more real in dealing with contemporary human circumstances.’i  Equally personal as it is universal, somber as it is playful, COMPANION is a poignant reflection of the modern-day human condition, inviting viewers to ponder the universality of emotion.


    In the present 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. 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. 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 practices 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).


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

    • Provenance

      Perrotin, Paris
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, KAWS, 12 October 2013 - 5 January 2014 (another example exhibited)
      New York, Brooklyn Museum, KAWS: WHAT PARTY, 26 February - 5 September 2021 (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 3 from an edition of 3 plus 1 artist's proof, and is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity signed by the artist.

Full Cataloguing

HK$4,000,000 - 6,000,000 

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Disruptors: Evening Sale of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Design and Watches

Hong Kong Auction 25 May 2023