BRIAN DONNELLY, BETTER KNOWN AS KAWS, HAS upended the art world with his street art of the 90's, his graphic and product design, and the highly finished paintings and large scale sculptural works that have been his focus in the last decade. He has created limited-edition lines for fashion houses, and designed an album cover for Kanye West. While his work is rooted in the graffiti and skateboard culture of his youth, he continues to be influenced by visual culture of the past and present.
In 1993 KAWS began tagging the streets of downtown New York. He chose the moniker KAWS purely for the sound of it. In 1993 he began the guerilla street interventions that would bring him international attention-targeting the billboard advertisements of bus shelters. With the anonymity of night, he would open the bus shelter boxes, remove the posters from their kiosks, and bring them back to his studio where he would integrate his imagery with that of the borrowed ad and then return the altered poster to its original location. He viewed it as a forced collaboration with the commercial or fashion photographer, as his imagery never subsumed but instead co-habitated with the original image.
It was during this period that KAWS pioneered the graphic style and cartoon-like imagery that he is celebrated for today. Most often, KAWS would detourne the advertisements with a puffy, inflated skull marked by exaggerated crossbones and X-ed out eyes. He also began to develop his constantly growing cast of characters Accomplice, Chum, Companion, Kimpsons, Kurfs, among others all featuring inflated skull and crossbones for heads and X-es for eyes.
In 2008 music producer Pharrell Williams curated KAWS' solo exhibition, Saturated, at Miami's Galerie Perrotin. The exhibition introduced the character KAWSBob, a meeting of KAWS' signature style with the popular children's character born of a commission by Williams. As KAWS relayed in an interview with the actor Tobey Maguire, "I started doing SpongeBob paintings for Pharrell. Then I started doing smaller paintings, which got much more abstract. And SpongeBob was something I wanted to do because graphically I love the shapes." (B. Donnelly in. T. Maguire, "KAWS," Interview (May, 2010), p. 118).
Since then KAWS' painting and sculptural work has appeared in multiple galleries, museum shows and public art spaces. He will have a solo shows at The Modern in Fort Worth in December 2011, at the High Museum in Altanta in Feb 2012 and a sculpture show at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 2013.
In KAWSBOB ENTERS THE STRANGE FOREST, the artist has taken on a new subject. In addition to his appropriation of SpongeBob SquarePants, Donnelly has borrowed from the work of his friend, Takashi Murakami. Murakami's Rainbow Flower, 2006, serves as the compositional cue for KAWS' tondo; and like Murakami's, KAWS' work is fastidiously rendered and polished. Whereas the original image featured a yellow smiling face surrounded by a halo of bright petals, KAWS has interjected his KAWSBob visage in the central disc. He further quotes Murakami in the title, referencing the seminal installation DOB in the Strange Forest, 1999. Here, the strange forest is the crossroads of art and mass media, it is the original world of KAWS.