October 16th, 2019.
Brian Donnelly, aka KAWS, doesn’t have the usual street-to-gallery artist story behind him. He doesn’t seem to have made the intentional and strategic moves that have led to the interior display of his street art, nor does it seem that he has meticulously predicted the rise of his work within the status quo. Rather, his is the story of serendipity. The filling of a niche in a commercially biased world that is starved for anything new and, with Jersey City as the literal canvas for his early expressions (bus shelters and public walls in particular) he happened to be naturally placed to be noticed.
Brian Donnelly’s first endeavour into the exchange of street art began with the trade of photographs of his graffiti between teenage peers in the late 80’s. This progressed, in the 90’s, to some of his earliest works under the pseudonym KAWS (which he chose literally because he liked the way the letters looked together. No more, no less.) which involved the graphic adornment of high-end, luxury brand advertising material that appeared in bus shelters, phone booths and on billboards around his native Jersey City. When people began to steal these “treated” works for their own personal display, the lucrative nature of Donnelly’s subvertising style was recognised ans subsequently adopted by the very brands who’s material he was effectively vandalising. And so the frivolous fun quickly turned to a professional avenue involving collaborative engagement high end luxury goods brands.
Today, Donnelly has a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the School of Visual Arts in New York under his belt and has subvertised in Paris, London, Berlin and Tokyo. His 2D works graduated to the 3D when he completed his first vinyl cast figure (of Mickey Mouse with X-ed out eyes which has become his creative trademark) in 1999 and he has since gone on to create a profoundly evocative body of large format, poster style and sculptural works that occupy their own signature aesthetic in the world of art and design.
Donnelly’s work continues to dominate in the world of artistic iconography and has proven that subjects that resonate within popular culture are not to be underestimated in the world of luxury art. In April this year a KAWS painting was sold by Sotheby’s in Hong Kong for US$14.7 million.
With early experimental subvertising works by KAWS continuing to appear in auction houses (having been ripped off public walls to adorn private ones since the early 90’s), Donnelly now tries his best to buy back his early works in a fashion that draws a line between artwork as a commissioned asset, and artwork as pure passion. A perspective that is both admirable and intriguing in today’s increasingly success driven world where that very notion is defined by affluence and trend. KAWS’ work resonates and pushes through diminishing attention spans to tug at the heartstrings of viewers and tap into the collective conscience of society in an age of increasing loneliness.
KAWS: Companionship In The Age Of Loneliness is currently showing at NGV International until 13th April, 2020.
Written by Tiffany Jade.