KAWS, ‘KAWS x Undercover’, 1999, Alpha 137 Gallery
KAWS, ‘KAWS x Undercover’, 1999, Alpha 137 Gallery
KAWS, ‘KAWS x Undercover’, 1999, Alpha 137 Gallery
KAWS, ‘KAWS x Undercover’, 1999, Alpha 137 Gallery

In 1996, Brian Donnelly, now known by his moniker KAWS, moved to New York and met fellow street artist Barry McGee, who had a key to the city’s phone booths. KAWS soon devised a strategy: break into the booths, remove their advertising posters, add his own graffiti to the posters, and then reinstall them back in the booth another night. “When I started painting on advertisements, it occurred to me that the ad really set the work in a specific time,” KAWS once said. Indeed, his takes on Calvin Klein advertisements, featuring a young Kate Moss and Christy Turlington, capture the cultural moment of the late 1990s. These early works also reveal KAWS’s first experimentation with his now-signature skull and bones motif, seen on his “Companion” characters and other vinyl toys. While many of these original advertisements are now lost or destroyed, KAWS released a series of collectible posters featuring this body of work in 1999.

In “KAWS x Undercover,” KAWS appropriates familiar images of human figures and subjects them to the cartoonish aesthetics of his practice, obscuring faces, hands, and backgrounds through the inclusion of familiar characters and bold patterns. This intriguing print is one of a series of five was specially crafted to commemorate KAWS’s involvement with Japanese designer Undercover’s Spring/Summer 2000 collection, launched in 1999.

Signature: Plate signed.

Publisher: Undercoverism, Japan

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