KAWS - New Now London Tuesday, July 13, 2021 | Phillips

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  • A cartoon-like skull, each eye socket marked with an X, is painted atop the robotic torso of the android C-3PO, an iconic character from the Star Wars franchise. The two crossed bones and ‘X’ eyes reimagine the universal symbol of the skull using the unmistakable iconography of Brooklyn-based artist, KAWS. The simplification of the cartoon face, executed using bold lines and solid planes of monotone colour, render the expression of the character ambiguous. The cheerful escapism associated with children’s cartoons and Hollywood action movies, such as Star Wars, is juxtaposed with a darker subtext: ‘When I first did the skull with the crossed eyes I was thinking of the history of the cross-eyed characters in animation… how it implies being drunk or dead’.i Half-android, half-cartoon, the hybrid figure in KAWS’s Untitled (C3PO) exemplifies the artist’s appropriation of familiar characters taken from popular culture to explore ideas about mass communication, commercialisation and artistic expression.
    'I use the X the same way that Mercedes uses the grille on their cars… You see them in the rearview mirror and just have a glimpse of it, and you know the style of the car going behind you.' 
    Born in New Jersey in 1974, KAWS’s interest in art was shaped by his engagement with skateboarding and graffiti subcultures. Upon graduating from the New York School of Visual Arts in 1996, he worked as an animator for Jumbo Pictures. It was during this period that he developed his trademark iconography through interventions on urban surfaces. Taking advertising posters found at bus stops on the streets of New York City, he painted skulls with crossed bones and ‘X’ eyes over the faces of the models promoting luxury fashion brands. His interest in appropriating existing iconography to confront the viewer with the familiar, made strange, soon prompted him to revisit well-known characters from popular culture including his own version of The Simpsons (dubbed the Kimpsons), Disney’s Mickey Mouse (Companion) and, as seen in the present work, Hollywood films including Star Wars. Seeking to break down ideological hierarchies of high- and low-art to widen access to his work, KAWS gives his characters life through a variety of mediums including streetwear, limited-edition toys, large-scale sculptures and original paintings on canvas.

    While KAWS’s witty engagement with visual culture asserts his reputation as a distinctly contemporary artist, his appropriation of existing images (particularly those associated with the commercial) resonates with the project of Andy Warhol and the American Pop Art movement. In turn, the development of his distinctive iconography through street art recalls the artmaking practices of Jean-Michel Basquiat, their shared integration of the skull into their visual vocabulary further cementing the resonances between the two artists’ work. Yet, despite such art historical precedents, KAWS’s unique configuration of references from popular culture united with his distinctive imagery to establish his position as a truly international figure at the forefront of the art world today. 


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


    i KAWS, quoted in KAWS, exh. cat., The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Ridgeway, Connecticut, 2010, p. 56

    • Provenance

      Private Collection (acquired directly from the artist)
      Phillips, London, 14 October 2010, lot 128
      Private Collection (acquired at the above sale)
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Literature

      KAWS, exh. cat., The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Ridgefield, Connecticut, 2010, p. 12 (illustrated)

    • 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 2000' on the reverse
inkjet and acrylic on canvas
76.2 x 55.9 cm (30 x 22 in.)
Executed in 2000.

Full Cataloguing

£250,000 - 350,000 

Sold for £352,800

Contact Specialist

Simon Tovey
Head of New Now Sale
+44 20 7318 4084

New Now

London Auction 13 July 2021