KAWS - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Wednesday, October 2, 2019 | Phillips

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  • Video

    KAWS, 'AT THIS TIME', Lot 22

    20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale, 2 October 2019

  • Provenance

    Private Collection, Hong Kong
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth; Shanghai, Yuz Museum, KAWS: WHERE THE END STARTS, 20 October 2016 - 13 August 2017, p. 195 (another example from the edition exhibited and illustrated, pp. 116 and 118-119)

  • Catalogue Essay

    Animating its surroundings with an uncannily ambivalent presence, AT THIS TIME, 2013, presents KAWS’ signature COMPANION figure, standing alone with his head tilted backwards and his eyes sunk in his hands. Exquisitely crafted from afromosia wood, AT THIS TIME is at once monumental and imposing, playful and psychologically charged, inviting viewers into a visual universe that is infused with KAWS’ instantly recognisable cartoon imagery. Selected for inclusion in the artist’s career-defining exhibition KAWS: WHERE THE END STARTS, which began in 2016 at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth and later travelled to the Yuz Museum in Shanghai, AT THIS TIME is an icon of our time that exemplifies KAWS’ rise to the canon of contemporary art, encapsulating the artist’s visual language that oscillates between popular culture and fine art.

    Executed in a rich, natural colour with exposed wood grain, AT THIS TIME illustrates KAWS’ enduring fascination and experimentation with materiality. In 2005, KAWS began collaborating with the Japanese furniture company Karimoku to create his first small wooden COMPANION, a partnership which would invigorate the artist’s notions about the material possibilities of wood. ‘We use a lot of technology with the sculptures we make’, the artist has said. ‘You know the large, wooden sculptures? Even though they’re wood, they go from small maquettes that are ten to fifteen inches to being digitized and built out on a CNC machine, which is sort of like 3-D printing’ (KAWS, quoted in ‘Pharrell Williams Interviews KAWS’, KAWS: WHERE THE END STARTS, exh. cat., Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Fort Worth, 2016, p. 85). A long-time admirer of H. C. Westermann’s intense approach to wood carving derived from carpentry, KAWS furthermore sought to follow the late American artist’s footsteps by developing new processes that would incorporate the traditional medium. In AT THIS TIME, this is exemplified by the natural striations of the wood grain that produce a mesmerising, swirling pattern along the polished surface of the sculpture. Drawing upon the centuries-old technique of marquetry, each strip of wood is meticulously fabricated to follow the contour lines of the COMPANION’s body, creating a marked contrast between the traditional wooden medium and character’s distinctly contemporary appearance.

    KAWS has furthermore bridged his appreciation of the materiality of wood with his love of toys, explaining that when creating the wood works, ‘I was thinking of the relationship I’ve had to wood toys growing up and the warmth and feeling they have when you hold them in your hand or place them on a shelf or table and stare at them. I wanted to expand on that, to create a wooden sculpture that makes you feel small but at the same time I want the viewer to feel like they should somehow help or console the work, despite its towering size’ (KAWS, quoted in ‘KAWS: The Story Behind an Artwork, in the Artist’s Own Words’, Blouin Modern Painters, February 2016). Like Urs Fischer’s monumental Untitled (Lamp/Bear), 2005-06, AT THIS TIME celebrates the very object that defines a young child’s experience, here bringing to mind the familiar Disney cartoon Pinocchio, who was created as a wooden puppet with dreams of becoming a real boy. Exuding a distinct intimate feel despite monumental scale, AT THIS TIME taps into the nostalgic potency of beloved childhood characters that resonate across audiences around the globe.

    Enamoured with the world of cartoons to the point of creating his own graphic figures, it was in 1999 that KAWS designed his first COMPANION character, which initially took the form of a small-scale figurine. Inspired by the iconic character of Mickey Mouse, COMPANION was named for the kind of lovable partner we all seek to feel cared for, fulfilled and not alone. COMPANION soon became a hallmark of KAWS’ visual lexicon, one that he would continue to hone and develop for the next two decades. The artist remarked, ‘Even though I use a comic language, my figures are not always reflecting the idealistic cartoon view that I grew up on… COMPANION is more real in dealing with contemporary human circumstances’ (KAWS, quoted in KAWS: WHERE THE END STARTS, exh. cat., Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Fort Worth, 2016, p. 5).

    In AT THIS TIME, the sculpted COMPANION’s posture conveys myriad, contradicting emotions, spanning disbelief, rest, isolation and playfulness. Captured in a state of isolation, COMPANION appears sad and alone – in a complete paradox to his name. Yet when seen from a child’s eyes, the character’s pose transforms into a playful expression, redolent of the childhood game of hide-and-seek. From play to retreat, invitation to isolation, the sculpted protagonist’s pose conjures a poignant vulnerability that summons empathy from its viewers. As such, AT THIS TIME is acutely relatable and universal, embodying the very essence of what KAWS has aimed to achieve throughout his oeuvre.

  • 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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Ο ◆22


afromosia wood
264 x 112 x 100 cm (103 7/8 x 44 1/8 x 39 3/8 in.)
Executed in 2013, this work is artist's proof number 2 from an edition of 3 plus 2 artist's proofs and is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity signed by the artist.

£800,000 - 1,200,000 

Sold for £1,455,000

Contact Specialist

Olivia Thornton
Senior Director
Head of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Europe
+44 20 7318 4099


Rosanna Widén
Director, Senior Specialist
+44 20 7318 4060

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 2 October 2019