Brian Donnelly, better known as KAWS, has made tough work out of 2013. From redesigning MTV’s Moonman to exhibits across select American cities, the artist has recently landed in the Big Apple, offering up “Pass the Blame.” I’ve been looking forward to this exhibit for sometime and was thrilled to finally check everything out. I’m now fully behind KAWS’ cause; there’s more going on here than just colorful cartoon references.
KAWS belongs to a generation of street artists born out of the pre-Giuliani New York scene. He has since graduated to a, ahem, better paying vocation of fine art. My favorite of his projects was born out of his stint in Japan, where he opened Original Fake in collaboration with Medicom Toy, based out of Tokyo. Here he released limited edition vinyl sculptures that took the art toy-scene by storm. His work went from adapting familiar pop-culture characters to becoming pop-icons themselves. Through doing so he began to develop and fine tune a voice, which put forward a distinct look at mass-media and contemporary culture.
This voice continues to grow louder within his most recent exhibitions. Hot off the success of his (contrasting) exhibit at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, KAWS has set up shop in NYC, his most recent work being featured concurrently at Mary Boone Gallery and Galerie Perrotin.
KAWS‘ signature “Companion” is featured as two new sculptures, both rising over 18 feet high, nearly reaching the ceilings of the Mary Boone Gallery. Fabricated from wood, they’re beautifully organic feats (a step away from his familiar vinyl creations). These sculptures are solemn, they’re sulking, their emotion-evoking pieces that need to be seen face-to-face (or rather face-to-foot; they’re massive). Both pieces seem like they’re reflecting upon the world, and take a sort of gentle-solace in retreating from it, congruent with KAWS’ commentary on modern culture.
KAWS seems to have evolved into the new Koons; say what you want, but I’d argue that artists such as these are a reminder to being an “idea man” versus “an execution man.” No shame in that. Two painted pieces can also be viewed here, giving a glimpse of what Perrotin is putting on show.
A series of new paintings adorn the white walls of Galerie Perrotin in New York’s Upper East. I don’t think there’s a better adjective for these than: cool. And I mean that in the best possible sense. Bold, vibrantly colored, abstractly shaped, and mind-bogglingly mashed together. KAWS speaks to the process of creating such works of art, “I make the drawings and then redraw them on the computer, using Adobe Illustrator… With Illustrator, I can frankenstein all these images together and experiment with composition.”
And experiment he has, these pieces are the bastard children of famous pop-art icons of time’s past. There’s definitely a method to the madness here, what at first seems like colorful vomit, transforms before your eyes into thoughtfully-placed collages of complimenting colors and harmonizing shapes. Working with the stark white walls of the gallery, these creations take on another life, everything acting together in unexpected manners that leads to a charged environment where the viewer is invited into the world of comics and cartoons.
These works looked perfectly executed, they’re a sight to behold. So sharp, they appear to be screen printed. At first I wasn’t too impressed, but after pained eyes and a bit of a mind-fuck, I came through. Your brain will have difficulties distinguishing between figuration and abstraction. KAWS apparently took a cue from Frank Stella and Ellsworth Kelley, who employed abstraction and recomposition that resulted in the extension of the canvas. It’s fun, it’s whimsical, and it makes a point.
Just what, exactly, is this exhibit trying to get at? Perrotin is clear to point out, “KAWS is not simply introducing popular references, he is forcing the artworld to accept these as a part of what for many is the real world they experienced growing up.” He taps into this psyche unapologetically, bringing with it a series of endearing memories, fascinations, and even bitter nostalgia. To me, KAWS stands as one of the most commanding figures in contemporary art today; the man continually brings me back to childhood but in a manner that pushes me past it as well. He makes me feel. And he does it all with flair and suave execution.
If you’re one of our stateside viewers, his work is on view at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia; Mary Boone and Perrotin, NYC; and Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas. If you’re not, then I’d recommend picking up one of his publications, Downtime or KAWS.