KAWS (b.1974)
acrylic on canvas
58 x 48 in. (147.5 x 122 cm.)
Painted in 2014.
Private collection

Brought to you by

Emily Kaplan
Emily Kaplan

Lot Essay

“Icons like Mickey, the Simpsons, the Michelin Man and Spongebob exist in a universal way that you forget their origin or even their narrative, and you just recognize them from the slightest glimpse of their image or sound.” - KAWS

With his grungy appropriations of familiar pop culture characters, KAWS (a.k.a. Brian Donnelly, b. 1974) has, quite literally, insinuated himself into the nooks of both contemporary media and traditional art history. Flaunting a name now synonymous with his prolific X-eyed cartoons, KAWS first tried his hand at tagging billboards and subway cars throughout 1990s Manhattan, inspired by skateboarding culture and the super-flat styles of animators. As hobby became passion, and passion became product, KAWS became free to experiment with different methods of communicating with broad audiences—primarily through characters suffused with all the innocence of childhood, yet open to the expanded interpretations that come with experience.

Untitled (MBFG6) (2014) recalls the joyful creations of Charles Schulz—Linus and Lucy, Snoopy and Charlie Brown prancing through the Peanuts comic strips from the 1950s until today. Throughout the MBF (Man’s Best Friend) series, which includes other Peanuts send-ups, KAWS remains faithful to the sketchy, monochrome forms that define the source material. In the present work, however, the artist has zoomed in on an exclaiming Linus, replacing the dark void from which the cry emanates with an iteration of his signature dead-eyed skull. Through such an intervention, KAWS weaves in poignant commentary on the proliferation of figures like Linus, while respecting the integrity of the original image: “By giving the comics a new face, the artist seems to aspire to update their past, which is not simply playful and lyrical, but can also be frightening and deathly. Hence the masks with ‘sewn’ eyes that do not look ahead but inside at their own stories…” (G. Celant, “BD and K,” in KAWS: 1993-2010, exh. cat., Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, 2010, p. 55).

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