5 Artists to Follow if You Like KAWS

Juliana Lopez
Jun 16, 2020 4:39PM

In this new monthly series, Artsy’s Curatorial team features a group of five emerging and noteworthy artists who are working in a similar style or spirit as a well-known or established artist. This month, we focus on KAWS, the prolific former street artist who’s developed a recognizable contemporary Pop aesthetic that carries across paintings, murals, clothing, and his signature “Companion” toys.

Hebru Brantley

B. 1981, Chicago. Lives and works in Los Angeles.


In his work, Hebru Brantley explores themes of empowerment, heroism, and hope. With his signature characters FLYBOY and LIL MAMA, he challenges traditional white representations of superheroes. Born and raised in Chicago, Brantley’s style is largely inspired by AfriCOBRA, the Chicago-based artist collective that formed in the 1960s. Similar to KAWS, Brantley works across various mediums including painting, screen prints, and vinyl figurines.

In October 2019, Brantley launched Nevermore Park, a 6,000-square-foot installation in the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago. The immersive environment is the imagined universe of FLYBOY and LIL MAMA. Brantley currently lives and works in Los Angeles, where he has expanded his work into content creation and established his media company, Angry Hero. His work is recognized internationally and sits in the collections of celebrity collectors such as Amar’e Stoudemire and Jay-Z and Beyoncé.

Joyce Pensato

B. 1941, New York. D. 2019, New York.

Joyce Pensato, who died in June 2019 at age 77, was known for her large-scale, expressive depictions of popular cartoon characters such as Batman, Felix the Cat, and the Simpsons. The daughter of an Italian immigrant, Pensato drew much of her inspiration from popular American culture. In the early 1990s, she began painting the messy, edgy cartoon characters for which she garnered acclaim.

Pensato lived and worked in Brooklyn for most of her life and ascended the ranks of the New York art scene, joining the roster of Petzel Gallery in 2007. “Batman Returns,” her third solo show with Petzel in 2012, is widely considered a career highlight. Alongside her iconic paintings and drawings, Pensato filled the gallery with knickknacks and furniture from her studio, covered in paint. Pensato’s work is included in the collections of major institutions including the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Dallas Museum of Art, and the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles.

Javier Calleja

B. 1971, Málaga, Spain. Lives and works in Málaga.

Spanish artist Javier Calleja is best known for his trademark characters with disproportionately large heads and exaggerated eyes, reminiscent of anime characters. In his work, Calleja often pairs these childlike figures with sarcastic text, revealing his dark humor and wit. Calleja has gained significant international attention in the past year with two solo exhibitions: “Clouds through the window” at Galerie Zink in Germany, which was a salon-style presentation of painted portraits, and “I did, I do, I will do” at AishoNanzuka gallery in Hong Kong, for which he translated his signature characters into larger-than-life sculptures. One piece from the latter show, titled Little Maurizio (2019), pays homage to Italian artist Maurizo Cattelan. Calleja’s work was also presented at Art Basel in Hong Kong in 2019 with Nanzuka Gallery.

Eric Inkala

B. Minneapolis. Lives and works in New York.

Minneapolis-born, Brooklyn-based Eric Inkala is a self-taught artist whose colorful, playful compositions have a cartoon-like quality reminiscent of KAWS’s abstract paintings and screenprints. While he started out as a graffiti artist, Inkala now has an expansive practice, ranging from large-scale murals to oil paintings and product collaborations with brands such as Coach. His work has been exhibited at gallery spaces internationally, from Corridor Contemporary in Philadelphia to Gallery Poulsen in Denmark, and his murals have popped up on walls in cities including Minneapolis, Texas, Palm Springs, and New York.

Maya Hayuk

B. 1969, Baltimore. Lives and works in New York.

Brooklyn-based artist and curator Maya Hayuk draws inspiration from a wide range of sources, from Ukrainian Easter eggs and Mexican woven blankets to mandalas and Rorschach tests. The resulting works are vibrant geometric paintings made up of intricate, kaleidoscopic patterns. Hayuk maintains an active studio practice in Brooklyn, where she creates paintings that inform her large-scale murals. Her work has been commissioned by and exhibited at institutions including the Hammer Museum in L.A., the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art in Toronto, and the Bonnefanten Museum in Maastricht, among others.

Juliana Lopez