KAWS - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Wednesday, March 6, 2019 | Phillips

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  • Video


    Specialist Simon Tovey discusses the appeal of the artist's iconic style, and how it's employed in 'MOVING THE MIRROR'.

  • Provenance

    Honor Fraser, Los Angeles
    Private Collection (acquired from the above)
    Christie's, New York, 18 May 2017, lot 849
    Private Collection, New York
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Catalogue Essay

    Emblematic of KAWS’s irreverent engagement with contemporary culture, MOVING THE MIRROR, 2010, presents the viewer with an ingenious riff upon the world-famous cartoon character SpongeBob, distinctively redesigned through the artist’s signature X-ed out eyes. Frequently reconstructing renowned television characters with codified expressions and frenetic grimaces, KAWS populates his oeuvre with the likes of aptly named Kimpsons, Kurfs, and the present KAWSbob, commenting on the infinite malleability of pop culture iconography. Reflective of his background in the New Jersey skateboarding community, and operating within the two discrete worlds of creation and commerce, KAWS’s work blurs distinctions between ‘high’ and ‘low’ art, emanating a sense of warmth and approachability that is reflected in the artist's important international following.

    During his first visit to Tokyo in 1997, KAWS was struck by the ways in which cartoon characters could cut through language barriers and cultural differences. Through resourceful methods of appropriation and subversion, the artist began constructing a hypergraphic visual vocabulary replete with real-life associations, most frequently taking inspiration from comic-strips and cartoons. Unveiling the politics of mass consumption through the creation of a falsely innocent pictorial world, KAWS was rapidly thrust into contemporary discourse and recognised as a key figure in twenty-first century art. Employing a bold, explosive palette that reconfigures traditional illustrative processes, the artist has successfully mythologised his unapologetically sardonic characters, and created a universe sui generis, oscillating between contrasting notions of levity and irony.

    Herein, the cropped, close‐up perspective of SpongeBob’s features serve to re‐contextualise the character’s instantly-recognisable buck teeth and yellow hue. Functioning as a globally recognised symbol that alludes to drunkenness or death, the crosses over his eyes are reminiscent of a piratical skull and crossbones, compromising the character’s traditionally naïve and unabatedly optimistic gaze. In obstructing SpongeBob’s vision, the artist’s distinctive Xs ultimately disrupt the facilitated exchange of perspective suggested in the work’s title, MOVING THE MIRROR, and magnify the character’s daunting aura.

    Coalescing a number of visual references that have been impressed upon the artist throughout his career, MOVING THE MIRROR is evocative of contemporary imagery, avant-garde Pop iconography and KAWS’s very own early experimentation with graffiti. As an influential crossover artist, KAWS’s large breadth of work finds precedent in Pop Art and American abstraction, indubitably informed by the works of seminal art icons Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol. The duo’s incorporation of the lexicon of advertising in their collaborative work Collaboration No. 19, for instance, presaged the strategic overlapping of street art and branding vocabularies in contemporary art. Working within these two realms, Collaboration No. 19 displays the commonalities of advertising slogans and expressive freehand painting, catalysing the union of both through the bold motif of a skull and crossbones.

    Despite his use of appropriation, KAWS’s work is consistently imbued with self-expression. In an interview with his friend and collaborator Pharrell Williams, the artist stated that rather than subverting the original meaning of images, he preferred to view his work as ‘honest’ and easily relatable (KAWS, quoted in KAWS WHERE THE END STARTS, exh. cat., Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, 2016, p. 83). He remarked: ‘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’ (KAWS, quoted in KAWS WHERE THE END STARTS, exh. cat., Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, 2016, p. 5). MOVING THE MIRROR, both visually familiar and symbolically arresting, is an expression of just that: it contains the seriousness of ‘adult’ concerns whilst simultaneously boasting childish associations.

  • 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

Ο ◆4


signed and dated 'KAWS..10' on the reverse
acrylic on canvas
122.3 x 213.5 cm (48 1/8 x 84 in.)
Painted in 2010.

£700,000 - 1,000,000 

Sold for £805,000

Contact Specialist
Rosanna Widén
Senior Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+ 44 20 7318 4060 rwiden@phillips.com

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 7 March 2019