Born Brian Donnelly in 1974 in New Jersey, Kaws studied illustration at the School of Visual Arts in New York.
He began using the name Kaws as a young graffiti artist in Jersey City but it was not until after he relocated to New York City in the 1990s that he began employing “subvertising,”. This is a practice of parodying and spoofing corporate and political advertisements on billboards, phone booths, and bus shelters; his subvertising has appeared in cities around the world, including London, Paris, Berlin and Tokyo.
Bearing many of the stylistic hallmarks of Pop Art, such as the inclusion of characters from The Simpsons and SpongeBob SquarePants as well as iconic advertisement personas like the Michelin Man, Kaws’s paintings, prints and sculptures have been compared to those of Takashi Murakami and Jeff Koons. His method of repeating iconic imagery is an attempt to make works universally understood, to transcend both language and culture.
Further obscuring the boundary between subvertisement and advertisement, Kaws has undertaken a number of commercial collaborations, beginning with the production of a vinyl toy for the Japanese clothing brand Bounty Hunter. Other notable collaborations have included Dior, Louis Vuitton, Comme des Garcons and Nike.
Kaws works can be found in the collections of the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego, the Brooklyn Museum, and the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth.
“As far as my opinion on galleries, I think they are a great thing. I see them as another outlet. I’m sure by now you’ve figured out that I do my work for everybody to see. That’s the whole point.”
Banner image credit: Hye-Ryoung Min
Watch: Brilliant Ideas, episode 29 (2016)
The Evolution of KAWS' (Brian Donnelly) Street Art Aesthetic
Interview: GQ (2021)
KAWS' (Brian Donnelly) talks to GQ about his work and career