KAWS, ‘Companion Black’, 2017, Richard Levy Gallery

Brian Donnelly, better known as KAWS, spent the first year of his career as an animator for Disney. After leaving in 1997, KAWS took inspiration from the company’s signature cartoon, Mickey Mouse, to create his own set of characters that he named “Companions.” With gloved hands and X’s for eyes, “Companions” first appeared in KAWS’s graffiti works across New York City in the late 1990s. By the end of the decade, the street artist created his first three-dimensional version, and his characters have since taken on a variety of colors, sizes, and poses. In 2017, his four-foot-tall Seated Companion (2011) broke the auction record for the series, selling for over $400,000. However, many of KAWS’s “Companions” are considerably more affordable, such as his vinyl toys produced in collaboration with esteemed manufacturers including Bounty Hunter, Bape, Medicom, and his own brand OriginalFake, which was active between 2006 and 2013.

KAWS(b. 1974) is an American graffiti artist and designer known for his toys and paintings. Pop Art and culture permeate his cartoonish Companion series of figurines, which bear a resemblance to the works of Takashi Murakami. KAWS worked in animation after graduating with a BFA from the School of Visual Arts in New York. Having started as a graffiti artist in New York in the early 1990s, KAWS began reworking advertisements in his distinctive style.

About KAWS

“KAWS” is a graffiti artist, illustrator, painter, sculptor, product designer, and toymaker. His cartoonish style—including his best-known characters with X-ed out eyes—has its roots in his early career as a street artist, when he began replacing advertisements with his own, masterful acrylic paintings in the early 1990s. Since, KAWS has embraced the commercialist spirit of Claes Oldenburg and Takashi Murakami, designing everything from Kanye West album covers to Nike sneakers. Avoiding the distinction between products and art objects, KAWS has shown his work increasingly in galleries and museums over the past decade; some of his most famous images are reimagined versions of pop characters like Mickey Mouse and the Michelin Man.

American, b. 1974, Jersey City, New Jersey, based in Brooklyn, New York