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KAWS (B. 1974)
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KAWS (B. 1974)

VICTOR

Details
KAWS (B. 1974)
VICTOR
signed and dated ‘KAWS..16’ (on the reverse)
acrylic on canvas
96 1/8 x 96 1/8in. (244.1 x 244.1cm.)
Painted in 2016
Provenance
Galerie Perrotin, Seoul.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2016.
Exhibited
Seoul, Galerie Perrotin, KAWS, 2016.
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Tessa Lord
Tessa Lord

Lot Essay

VICTOR (2016), an unmistakable example of KAWS’s subversive approach to American popular culture, transforms the iconic outline of a cartoon character into a monumental, arresting composition. Rendered as a flat white shape criss-crossed with abstracted black line, he floats like a paper cut-out – complete with shadow – before a fractured background of kaleidoscopic colour. He is at once instantly recognisable and eerily unfamiliar. Visible within the maze of line is the trademark ‘X’ symbol which so often adorns KAWS’ renditions of famous figures. The painting reconciles KAWS’s stylistic and conceptual influences – which include artists such as Takashi Murakami, Jeff Koons and Claes Oldenburg – with his beginnings as a graffiti artist in and around his hometown of Jersey City, New Jersey in the 1990s, when he achieved notoriety for painting his now-beloved ‘COMPANION’ faces on bus shelter fashion advertisements. Editing these ads and roping them into his artistic world, the then-mysterious street artist became known as an irreverent commentator on the nature of mass consumption and the American fascination with celebrity and celebrities, both real and fictional. VICTOR represents a powerful development of this strand of his practice. Destabilising the cartoon character’s essential elements, KAWS calls into question the foundations of his appeal and cultural permanence, restaging his form as part of a near-Abstract Expressionist explosion of colour and shape.

Although he is famed for his boundary-pushing collaborations with clothing, toy and design companies, KAWS’s painting remains centrally important to his practice. Recolouring and distorting household names from television series, advertising imagery and more, he deploys his self-referential vocabulary with meticulous craftsmanship, paying careful attention to the nuances of flat colour and line. Beyond their important place as pop-culture identities, the faces and outlines of cartoon characters carry a particular formal appeal for the artist, who has spoken of his appreciation for their elements of strong, graphic shape. Where a common first reaction to abstraction is an attempt at parsing some concrete imagery, paintings like VICTOR do the opposite, urging viewers to find abstraction in an icon they’ve known for years. Reimagined on a heroic scale and plunged into pyrotechnic collapse, the cartoon character oscillates between flatness, depth, presence and absence, forcing us to look anew at the world of visual media that we take for granted.

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