KAWS: Pop Art's Big Toy Story

Mar 3, 2014 4:35PM

"...it's funny that when I work big in bronze it's called a sculpture, but something I do that's small and plastic is called a toy." - KAWS (KAWS' WORLD, by Carlo McCormick, PAPER Magazine, November 2013)

Brooklyn-based artist KAWS re-appropriates bits of popular culture and transforms them into eye catching iconic paintings. His cartoonlike characters, recognizable to the media savvy public, undergo a sardonic set of alterations.

'Untitled', 2009
depicts the popular children’s cartoon character, SpongeBob SquarePants. KAWS explains, "I started doing SpongeBob paintings for Pharrell. Then I started doing smaller paintings, which got much more abstract. And SpongeBob was something I wanted to do because graphically I love the shapes." (KAWS in conversation with Toby Maguire, Interview Magazine, May 2010).

SpongeBob, stripped of his bright yellow hue, is still recognizable to his adoring public, despite being shaded in a matte red tint. Only his bulging eyes with KAWS’ signature x’s, protruding nose, and two buck teeth are retained. Closely cropped, he has an air of unease, immediately identifiable, yet strangely amiss.

Beginning his career in the graffiti technique, KAWS has honed in on the Pop Art tradition. Referencing Warhol, Wesselmann and Oldenburg as his early influencers, he repeats cartoon images infused with his own artistic citations. As he said, “For me, all my work is personal. It is an accumulation of things that create my art. I am who I am, and I’ve never said to myself that I would become a famous graffiti artist or a famous painter. I just painted on the outside and I’m doing it inside.” (KAWS in conversation with Romain Daubriac, “KAWS: XX,” Clark Magazine #45, November/December 2010).

Through the modification of commonplace ads and the reinterpretation of commercially popular cartoon characters, KAWS has created his own world by forging a complicated path between Pop Art, graffiti and abstraction.

KAWS 'Untitled', 2009
will be offered in our Contemporary Art & Design Evening Sale, 6 March 2014, in New York.

Additional image source: Photograph by Danielle Levitt ©Danielle Levitt/AUGUST.

Artwork: Courtesy of the Artist