In the spring of 2019, Brian Donnelly, better known by his artist nickname Kaws, stood outside the New York Academy of Art, ready to enter their annual party, the tribeca ball. The security guard refused to let him pass the velvet rope and enter the gala that honored him.
“That’s Kaws, he’s a famous artist,” a party guest told the security guard. The rope finally came loose and Donnelly slipped inside. He posed for photos, did a press interview, and then sat at the table with rapper and art collector Swizz Beatz.
Often times when you are “world famous for art”, not everyone recognizes you. And Donnelly is one of the least famous famous artists out there.
But he will finally have a retrospective of his hometown at the Brooklyn Museum. More than 100 works of art are on view as part of Kaws: What party?, which runs until September 5 (by appointment).
With more than 3.3 million followers on Instagram, vinyl toys, fashion collaborations with Christian Dior, a top auction of $ 14.8 million, the artist is already a pop culture phenomenon, but despite the hype, he said in a past interview with The Guardian: “I wish the headlines were about work.
“They asked me if I was ‘disappointed that this exposure is during the pandemic’ since all these regulations exist,” he said, “but I think that might be a nice thing.”
It could potentially give more space to absorb the artwork. “For me, it’s a way to put the work that I’ve been doing for the last 20 or 25 years, and put it in front of people, and they will get what they can out of it,” Donnelly said.
In fact, it is an offline show (which will probably end in an online photo metaflow). “Many times my work is only viewed in print or online via jpgs, so this is a great opportunity to show people original work.”
He has a studio in WilliamsburgHe wears sneakers and a snapback almost everywhere he goes and takes a back-view approach in interviews. Donnelly is apolitical once saying: “I’m not trying to impose a way of feeling about a job, I’m just doing the job and putting it in the world.”
You have a weakness for the location of your new program. It was the first museum in New York to acquire his works of art, a pair of wooden sculptures in the museum’s lobby called Along the Way.
He hopes this exhibition will also inspire the next generation of artists. “It makes Brooklyn kids know there is access, you can write your own script,” Donnelly said. “It makes you think beyond your 10 block radius.”
In this exhibition, he includes early works that trace his roots, the kind of material that is not normally considered high art today. “I’m happy to have sketchbooks and graffiti wall pictures from the early 1990s on the show, so a lot of people save those things or say, ‘This is the point where I became a professional artist.’ “, He said. “But the whole time I was painting walls and freight trains, it was painting. I was thinking about visual compositions in terms of color and scale, things that I think about now. “
You won’t find Kaws diving into a vocabulary of art jargon to explain his work. He has no academic training and didn’t get his first exposure until 2008. Donnelly, 46, grew up in Jersey City, got into skateboarding, became a graffiti artist and became a cultural jammer in the 1990s, when he put open bus stop advertisements all over New York City, to slide his own paintings over fashion advertisements.
He took up animation work, then began designing toys and is one of the best-selling collectible figure dolls since his first vinyl toy with Japanese clothing brand Bounty Hunter in 1999. He designed the 808s & Heartbreak album cover for Kanye West in 2008, which led to other commercial projects. It signals a change in the art world: a hybrid artist that unites fine arts, commercial art and graphic design, as ordinary as it is significant.
Some of his best works of art are outdoors. He has created daring works of public art, such as the Complementary sculptures on a rooftop in China and a sculpture of his Companion figure reclining in the water in Victoria Harbor in Hong Kong for a 40 foot long inflatable piece called Kaws: Holiday. Last fall, his 20-foot-tall bronze Chum character was dropped in front of the Ludwig Mies van der Rohe-designed Seagram Building in New York.
“I always felt that public art was important,” Donnelly said. “Having that direct communication with the general public is really amazing.”
Curator Eugenie Tsai says Donnelly’s work is a reflection of our time. “Love, friendship, isolation, loneliness, it is a symbol of our time,” said Tsai. “Today, these issues are more relevant than ever.”
The exhibit begins with a life-size pink sculpture of his character Chum, which is inspired by the Michelin Man, then enters a room displaying his old notebooks, photos of his early graffiti tags. He turns to his 1990s publicity photos on bus stop advertisements and shows a series of paintings featuring altered pop culture figures from The Simpsons, SpongeBob Squarepants, Snoopy and the Smurfs, all of whom have their eyes on. X shape.
In the glass cabinets, there are countless figures and toys (including his 2013 Kaws MTV Moonman, which was used for the MTV Video Music Awards and in the hands of winners like Justin Timberlake), as well as his designs for Comme des Garçons handbags and Vans sneakers.
But the exhibition really shines with the abstract paintings. Artwork like Mirror and Score Years take his cartoonish compositions to the next level. They elevate the post-anxiety spirit in their work beyond the figurative form. His 2017 article, The News, is an exercise in neon, retail-friendly color theory, presented in the format of Instagram’s graphical grid.
One groundbreaking piece is about your experience getting Covid-19. The piece, titled Urge (Kub2) was created in 2020 and details the artist’s interpretation of being in bed for three weeks with the virus. It shows his character Chum, with different colored legs on his torso and face, which means “to touch and contaminate”, said the artist.
Donnelly regards Claes Oldenburg as an influence. The pop artist, who saw his rise between Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein in the 1960s, made huge sculptures of everyday objects, such as hamburgers, lipstick, and a giant. upside down ice cream cone on top of a building, it makes sense why.
“Claes Oldenburg has made great public works of art, as well as smaller, more intimate objects and editions,” said Donnelly. “His use of scale to distort viewers’ relationship to the work, as well as his choice of materials, was absolutely brilliant.”
The title of the exhibition, What Party, sounds like the anthem of 2021 (there are no parties anywhere, what party?). That phrase means something different to today’s artist, just like having an exhibition despite the state of the world with the ongoing pandemic.
“What Party was originally the title of a sculpture I made in 2018, as I liked the uncertainty of it, and as I watched the sculpture take shape, the title stuck,” he said.
“In some ways, the timing seems perfect even though we started planning for it long before the pandemic. It feels like an achievement to organize and open an exhibition in these circumstances. I am very grateful to my studio and to everyone at the museum for the work they did during these challenging times. “
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism