“There’s no meaning to it. It’s just letters that I liked—K-A-W-S. I felt like they always work and function nicely with each other.” – (KAWS)
Staring at the viewer with large bright eyes, this commanding circular character is the embodiment of KAWS’s highly distinctive form of painterly expression. This signature motif of the cartoon-like character represents a manifestation of pop culture abundant in our contemporary world. Recalling Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein’s adoption of the language of mass communication, the viewer only needs to see but a fraction of the whole to buy into KAWS’s work. His minimalistic approach allows the viewer to construct a narrative of the character presented.
KAWS was born in 1974 and grew up in Jersey City during the difficult decades of the late 1970s and early 1980s when the city was thwarted by economic decline and urban conflict. Like many of his contemporaries including Jean-Michel Basquiat, his first artistic explorations were on the streets where he graffiti-bombed billboards, trains, and walls. Becoming more in tune with the city and the 90s culture, KAWS evolved into an interventionist, unlocking the glass panels which encased bus stop and phone booth ads; KAWS seamlessly inserted his characters into the original advertisement.
KAWS then began to use popular cartoons and appropriated their artistic language and forms for his own work. “[I] found it weird how infused a cartoon could become in people's lives; the impact it could have, compared to regular politics.” (KAWS, quoted by Healy & Murray, "Graffiti Artist Turned Gallery Artist Turned Art Toy Maker, KAWS" Pop, February 2007, pp. 260-265).