KAWS - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Wednesday, November 17, 2021 | Phillips

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  • Painted in 2010, KAWS’s THE WAY HE KNOWS is a key example of the artist’s ability to exude complex emotion through nostalgic imagery. Cropping in on the immediately recognizable cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants, KAWS brings this character into his unique vernacular with his signature crossed out eyes. Presented with an open mouth and clenched face, his figure is suffused with primal emotion. At approximately seven feet tall, SpongeBob’s iconic yellow visage is expanded to larger-than-life proportions, amplifying its emotional impact to the viewer.



    Pablo Picasso, Weeping Woman’s Head with Handkerchief [III], Postscript of "Guernica", 1937. Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid, Image: Album/Art Resource, NY, Artwork: © 2021 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York



    "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."



    In the early 2000s, the artist began to reappropriate iconic cartoon characters from the last half century in his painterly practice, making these universal characters his own by voiding them of their original narrative context. The artist notably illustrates the familiar faces of cartoon cultural icons such as Snoopy, SpongeBob, Smurfs, The Simpsons, Sesame Street, and Mickey Mouse. Evoking a unique sense of nostalgia, his iconography recalls the purity of childhood memories while conflicting with the complexities of contemporary life.



    KAWS, GRRR!, 2008, Private Collection (Sold Phillips New York, November 2019, world record for the artist’s SpongeBob SquarePants)

    KAWS, GRRR!, 2008. Private Collection, Artwork: © KAWS (Sold Phillips New York, November 2019)



    Created by marine science educator Stephen Hillenburg in the late 1990s, SpongeBob SquarePants is the highest rated series to ever air on the children’s American cartoon network, Nickelodeon. With more than 275 episodes spanning over two decades, SpongeBob SquarePants has become a household name adorning television screens in more than 200 countries. Despite being a common theme in the artist’s body of work, KAWS admits, “SpongeBob was something I wanted to do because graphically I love the shapes. But honestly, when I’m painting SpongeBob, I’m not thinking, ‘Oh, I loved this episode.’ Honestly, I’ve never even watched it.”i



    "It's a little hard to extract that personality out of me. I've always hated the smoke and mirrors from artists ahead of me, where you get to see this staged photo and that's what they stick to. I think, especially for kids following me, I try and make the point that you literally can do this. You can get into art."


    KAWS’s multidisciplinary practice which incorporates painting, sculpture, and print-making, has caught the attention of collectors worldwide. As his fine art practice continues to reach new heights, the artist has shown commitment to remaining accessible by collaborating with global fashion brands including Dior, Nike, and Uniqlo. His practice has been honored with numerous solo shows around the globe, including a 2011 solo exhibition at The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield, CT, where the present work was on view. The artist also received a retrospective at the National Gallery of Victoria, Australia (2019-2020) and most recently, the highly acclaimed major survey at the Brooklyn Museum, New York in 2021. His works are cemented within the permanent collections of international institutions, including the Brooklyn Museum, the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth in Texas, the CAC Malaga in Spain, and the Rosenblum Collection in Paris.




    Installation view of the present work, Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, KAWS, June 27, 2010-January 2, 2011

    The present work installed at KAWS, Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Ridgefield, June 27, 2010 – January 2, 2011. Artwork: © KAWS


    i KAWS, quoted in Tobey Maguire, “KAWS,” Interview Magazine, April 27, 2010, online.

    • Provenance

      Honor Fraser Gallery, Los Angeles
      Private Collection
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2013

    • Exhibited

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

      View More Works

Property from a Private Collection, Paris



signed and dated "KAWS.. 10" on the reverse
acrylic on canvas
84 x 48 in. (213.4 x 121.9 cm)
Painted in 2010.

Full Cataloguing

$850,000 - 1,000,000 

Sold for $1,542,500

Contact Specialist

Amanda Lo Iacono
New York Head of Department & Head of Auctions
+1 212 940 1278

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 17 November 2021