The KAWS phenomenon

09 September 2019|editorial |Press

kaws artist

In less than 10 years, graffiti artist turned blue-chip darling, KAWS (Brian Donnelly) has become a household name with his cartoonish iconography, gigantic sculptures, collectable toys and vibrant paintings. Straddling the world of both high art and consumer culture, earlier this year, KAWS’ painting of SpongeBob SquarePants went for more than six times its high estimate at the Phillip’s auction, cementing his status as a contemporary artist who is set to make a mark in art history.

With a background in street art, KAWS perfected his practice by defacing billboards around New York City, since then the prolific artist has gone on to collaborate with a multitude of brands including Dior, Marc Jacobs, Uniqlo and Comme Des Garcon, amassing over 2.3 million followers on Instagram along the way. It’s safe to say the cult of KAWS is well and truly happening – which is why we’ve rounded up a few reasons below that outline why this artist is one you should consider investing in.

1. His recent auction results exceeded estimates

Earlier this year, KAWS made headlines when demand for his work reached a new level at several international auction houses. Estimates were exceeded for several of his most recognised pieces, including a painting of SpongeBob SquarePants in his trademark style which achieved $6 million at Phillips, 10 times the low estimate of $600,000.The 2019 Artnet Intelligence Report reports that in 2017 his average sale price almost doubled, from $42,272 to $82,063 and in 2018, KAWS’ work achieved over $33.8 million at auction.

2. There is a limited supply of his work

Unlike many other artists in his league, KAWS refuses to hire a team to help him. The limited supply of his work has made it even more valuable which is why there is such a demand for his work at auction. Talking about his decision to not rise to demand, the artist says: “I was more interested about learning and navigating around my interests and figuring out how to create a long-lasting trajectory. There were definitely moments in the early 2000s, where there was an abundance of money floating around and an opportunity to license and do stupid stuff, and I always kind of cringed at a lot of that. If I couldn’t stand next to it, I wouldn’t do it. “

3. He has changed the contemporary art scene

In 2012, KAWS created a scene-stealing 14-foot balloon for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade which appeared alongside iconic characters such as Mickey Mouse and Sonic the Hedgehog. Demonstrating proof of KAWS’ talent at transforming art into a spectacle for mass consumption, the inimitable artist has disrupted the art scene by breaking down the barriers between ‘high’ art and ‘low’ art. His landscape changing Land Art has also been applauded by art critics and curators, particularly his “KAWS: Holiday” project, for which the artist installed a 37-meter sculpture of one of his “Companion” figures in locations around

the world. “I’ve always been interested in public art,” the artist says. “A lot of the reason of how I make work is about communication, it’s about creating a dialogue with the viewer, and putting work out there they weren’t expecting to interact with that day.”

4. His brand collaborations have made him a star

From designing Kanye West’s album cover to working with cult streetwear labels A Bathing Ape and Supreme, KAWS has solidified his iconic status by undertaking a series of carefully considered brand collaborations. The result has led the artist to be aligned with a number of luxury and popular brands, captivating an even wider audience. In 2019, Paris Fashion Week saw Dior designer Kim Jones debut his Spring/Summer 2019 collection with a 33-ft tall pink flower sculpture of KAWS’s ‘BFF’ character as the backdrop to the show. On collaborating, KAWS says: “Companies are good at different things, and I want to learn about those things, how they work and how they disseminate into the world, and have my work enter the world through those same channels.”