KAWS - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Afternoon Session New York Thursday, May 10, 2018 | Phillips
  • Provenance

    Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner

  • Catalogue Essay

    The present two lots exemplify New York-based artist KAWS’s continuously vibrant incorporations of diverse commercial and artistic references in pursuit of portraying relatable emotion. Inspired by animation DVDs in the early part of his career, KAWS would watch cartoons and pause them periodically to take close-up screenshots of characters, their caricatures on visceral display. These two paintings, executed in 2014, epitomize the artist’s complex creative process that then followed. Combining a range of visual elements drawn from characters including SpongeBob SquarePants, the Smurfs, and a doughy Michelin Man, KAWS reworks recognizable imagery to fit his own abstract depictions of tangible expressions like excitement and surprise. At once theatrical and minimal, KAWS’s vivid colors in the present lots are enclosed in geometrically graphic curves and straight lines, adding power to enlarged realizations of human emotion. In lot 320, rendered with sensational chromatic breadth, a soft hand gently touches the artist’s signature “X” eye, whereas in the more closely cropped lot 321, a striking red tongue bends over a deep brown mouth as if in dramatic motion. With symbolic weight, KAWS pieces together these real, physical attributes to animate newly crafted personalities. In a 2016 interview, KAWS explained the drive behind this process: “I do start with familiar things, and that’s primarily to make the work more approachable for people – it’s an entry point” (KAWS, quoted in Leslie Murrell and Christopher Howard, eds., Where the End Starts: KAWS, exh. cat., Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Fort Worth, 2017, p. 80).

  • 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..14" on the reverse
acrylic on canvas
35 1/4 x 23 in. (89.5 x 58.4 cm.)
Painted in 2014.

$120,000 - 180,000 

Sold for $175,000

Contact Specialist
Rebekah Bowling
Head of Day Sale, Afternoon Session
New York
+ 1 212 940 1250

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Afternoon Session

New York Auction 16 May 2018