This large circular canvas contains the embodiment of the KAWS’ highly individualistic form of painterly expression. Within its perimeter we see a glimpse of the artist’s signature motif—his cartoon-like character, an abbreviation of the pop culture vernacular that is ubiquitous throughout the world. Evoking Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein’s adoption of the language of mass communication, the viewer only needs to see a fraction of the whole image to buy into KAWS’ work, his reductive (almost abstract) use of line and color nonetheless allowing us to construct our own narrative as to what is being unveiled before us.
As if looking through a peephole, the tondo-shaped canvas displays a close-up of what appears to be an eye is looking back at us. The white sclera looms into view, taking up most of the composition off which a trio of thin black lines emanate from the outer edge of the eye evoking long eye-lashes. Also included along the lower portion, laughter lines disclose the happy nature of what appears to be the figure’s contagious smile. The dark pupil in the center of the eye has been struck through with a large X, a typical motif in the artist’s work that appears to act as a way of preventing his audience identifying a particular, existing cartoon figure and ensuring that the creation resolutely remains KAWS’ own.
KAWS (real name Brian Donnelly) was born in 1974 and grew up just across the river from New York City in the difficult decades of the late 1970s and early 1980s when the city was troubled by economic decline and urban strife. Like his contemporary Jean-Michel Basquiat, his first artistic creations were carried out on the streets as he perfected his skills by covering trains, walls and billboards with his idiosyncratic forms of graffiti. He would eventually graduate to more direct forms of street art when he began appropriating bus shelters by removing the glass that covered the advertisements and defacing the consumer images underneath by adding his own amendments and alterations. These interventions were so skillfully executed—with the visual brushstrokes seemingly invisible—that it was often hard to distinguish the artist’s work from the original.
After spending a brief period working as an animator for Disney, KAWS began to use the popularity of cartoons and appropriated their artistic language for his own ends. “[I] found it weird how infused a cartoon could become in people's lives; the impact it could have, compared to regular politics” he once said. (B. Donnelly, quoted by Healy & Murray, "Graffiti Artist Turned Gallery Artist Turned Art Toy Maker, KAWS" Pop, February 2007, pp. 260-265). In addition to his own creations, KAWS has reworked other familiar icons such as Mickey Mouse, the Michelin Man, the Smurfs and SpongeBob SquarePants.
KAWS’ artistic narrative transcends class, gender, and cultural boundaries with one universal language. Looking at his representation of classic children’s comic book characters (such as the present example) forces the viewer to confront their subcultural iconography, recall their own childhood memories and reflect on how those experiences may have resulted in their life as an adult.