KAWS - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Wednesday, June 26, 2019 | Phillips
  • Video

    KAWS, 'UNTITLED (MBFV5)', Lot 4

    20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale, 27 June 2019

  • Provenance

    Private Collection, Palm Beach
    Thence by descent

  • Catalogue Essay

    Brimming with rich chromatic hues and illustrating one of KAWS’s most desirable cartoon-inspired iterations, UNTITLED (MBFV5) is a particularly dynamic example of the American artist’s now instantly recognisable visual lexicon. Presenting one of KAWS’s irreverent reinventions of Snoopy, Charlie Brown’s mischievous pet Beagle in the cartoon world of Peanuts, UNTITLED (MBFV5) flips the beloved American dog upside down, whimsically enhancing the sense of movement that is inherent to the work’s dynamic surface. Straddling aesthetics of traditional illustration and expressive abstraction, UNTITLED (MBFV5) yields a compelling, colourful image that revels in complexities of both form and content. In spotlighting a seminal protagonist of the cartoon canon, whilst employing a sleek aesthetic akin to the glossy surfaces of Pop Art canvases, UNTITLED (MBFV5) dismantles perceived boundaries between popular culture and fine art, and enables the formation of a fluid, lively dialogue between the past and the present.

    Beginning his career as a street artist in New Jersey, KAWS – Brian Donnelly’s chosen moniker – remained relatively unknown throughout the 1990s, until experiencing a meteoric ascent to the international contemporary art scene, culminating in the major survey slated to take place at the Brooklyn Museum in 2021. Following his production of limited edition toys in the late 1990s, mainly iterations of his own highly-graphic subjects, the artist began appropriating familiar television and cartoon icons such as the Simpsons, the Smurfs, and SpongeBob in the early 2000s. By the time the present work was made, he had already assembled his own idiosyncratic set of affable characters – dubbed his ‘Companions’ – and transformed their easily discernible appearance into mischievous, at times ominous, creatures. These new cartoonish figures, rendered with a bold palette of energetic colours, together conjure a falsely innocent pictorial world, replete with signs of today’s world and society as it embraces the dominance of imagistic consumption.

    Though UNTITLED (MBFV5)’s picture plane contains no clear features able to spark immediate cognitive associations, the surface’s precise delineations carve out a silhouette that is well-known to all. Snoopy as a subject has proven to be a favourite from KAWS’s pantheon of iconic characters. Appearing in his work time and again, in full or fragmented, tonally rich or reduced renditions, the Peanuts protagonist additionally presents one of the oldest source images KAWS has based his irreverent art upon. Having been created in 1950 by Charles M. Schulz, Snoopy has become one of the most recognisable figures in the comic strip world, associated to a mischievous, slothish character. ‘I’m into Schulz as an artist, a company, and an icon; I got into his stuff just because I liked the looseness of the line work, and I thought that it was just sort of a nice thing to bring into my paintings, even if it’s abstract and unidentifiable’ (KAWS, quoted in Steff Yotka, ‘Inside KAWS’s Studio With The Artist’, Vogue, 27 April 2000, online).

    Propelled beyond the world of illustration, KAWS additionally draws kinship with seminal art historical movements. ‘While one expects KAWS’s work would be entirely indebted to Pop art, his process suggests an equal debt to Minimalism, in which abstract parts of materials are rearranged to create different types of wholes’ (Michael Auping, KAWS: WHERE THE END STARTS, exh. cat., Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Fort Worth, 2016, p. 68). KAWS’s use of a non-rectangular support in the present image, for instance, resonates with Frank Stella and Ellsworth Kelly’s key innovations in the 1960s. Whereas his predecessors’ non-figurative works are based on combinations of geometric forms, UNTITLED (MBFV5) follows the contours of Snoopy himself, applying KAWS’s own logic and establishing the painting’s larger-than-life presence. As Auping notes, ‘American abstract painters employed the shaped canvas to objectify the canvas support, to give it the look of a self-contained painted object. KAWS uses it for just the opposite reason, as a form of physical animation, energizing the characters so that they appear to be moving across the landscape of the wall’ (Michael Auping, KAWS: WHERE THE END STARTS, exh. cat., Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Fort Worth, 2016, p. 74).

  • 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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signed 'KAWS' lower centre; further signed and dated 'K.A.W.S..16' on the reverse
acrylic on canvas on wood panel
153.7 x 92.7 cm (60 1/2 x 36 1/2 in.)
Painted in 2016.

£300,000 - 500,000 

Sold for £495,000

Contact Specialist

Rosanna Widén

Director, Senior Specialist
Head of Evening Sale, 20th Century & Contemporary Art

44 20 7318 4060

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 27 June 2019