Exploring KAWS Art: History, Techniques, and Practices
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 10 min read


  1. Brief History of KAWS
  2. KAWS' Early Career
  3. Exploration of KAWS' Sculptures
  4. Examination of KAWS' Paintings
  5. Analysis of KAWS' Prints
  6. Overview of KAWS' Toy Designs
  7. KAWS' Influences on Contemporary Art
  8. How to Identify KAWS' Art
  9. KAWS Collection Practices
  10. KAWS' Art and The Market

For anyone looking to immerse themselves in the vibrant world of contemporary art, a name that consistently stands out is KAWS. His distinctive approach to art, spanning from paintings and prints to sculptures and toys, has positioned him as one of the most influential artists of our time. This blog will guide you through an exploration of KAWS art, offering insights into his history, techniques, and practices.

Brief History of KAWS

Born as Brian Donnelly in 1974, the artist we now know as KAWS started his journey in Jersey City, New Jersey. His interest in art was sparked at a young age when he began copying images from cartoons and advertisements—an early hint at the pop culture references that would later define his art. After graduating from the School of Visual Arts in New York with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in illustration, KAWS art took a detour into the world of graffiti. He began tagging walls, billboards, and even bus shelters with his now-iconic KAWS moniker.

In the late 1990s, KAWS moved to Japan where he started his first toy designs. This marked a significant shift in his career as it introduced KAWS art to a wider audience, attracting both art collectors and toy enthusiasts. His first toy, the "Companion", is a Mickey Mouse-esque figure with crossed-out eyes—a signature feature in KAWS art. The success of his toy line eventually paved the way for KAWS to transition into the mainstream art scene.

Fast forward to today—you'll find KAWS art exhibited in esteemed art institutions worldwide. From his enormous sculptures in major cities to his sought-after prints, KAWS art continues to captivate audiences with its unique blend of humor, culture, and commentary.

KAWS' art journey is a testament to the power of passion and creativity, proving that art can take many forms and still resonate with people from all walks of life. As we delve deeper into the world of KAWS art, you'll discover just how this artist has left an indelible mark on contemporary art.

KAWS' Early Career

KAWS kick-started his career in the art world quite differently than most. As a budding artist fresh out of college, he found his canvas not within the confines of an art studio, but on the streets of New York City. This unconventional start would set the tone for the boundary-pushing nature of KAWS art.

His early works were primarily graffiti, featuring the tag 'KAWS', which was simply a selection of letters he liked. This tag would later become his artistic pseudonym and a hallmark in the realm of contemporary art. His unique style of subvertising—altering billboards, bus shelters and phone booths—captured attention. It was this unique approach to art that led him to the world of vinyl toys in Japan, marking a turning point in his career.

In Japan, KAWS created his first vinyl toy, the "Companion", which was a reimagined version of Mickey Mouse with crossed-out eyes. The toy was an instant hit, blending the lines between commercial product and thought-provoking art. This fusion of whimsy, pop culture, and social commentary - a signature of KAWS art - would become a defining characteristic of his work.

These early experiences shaped KAWS' artistic style and approach. By blurring the boundaries between fine art and commercial goods, KAWS art reflects a deep understanding of brand culture and consumerism. This understanding, coupled with his undeniable creativity, has propelled KAWS from a graffiti artist to a global art phenomenon. His early career serves as a reminder that the path to success isn't always traditional—sometimes it requires a spray can, a dash of rebellion, and a whole lot of imagination.

Exploration of KAWS' Sculptures

When we talk about KAWS art, sculptures certainly play a significant role. These are not your average bronze statues in a city park, but larger-than-life figures that make you stand still and take notice. Let's explore the world of KAWS' sculptures.

These sculptures, often standing tens of feet tall, are impossible to ignore. Take his 'Companion' series, for instance. The thought of a 40-foot-long Mickey Mouse-like figure lying on its back in a public space is a bit jarring, right? But that's the magic of KAWS' sculptures. They demand attention and ignite conversation.

KAWS uses his sculptures to express human vulnerability and aspiration. His 'ALONG THE WAY' sculpture, featuring two monumental figures comforting each other, is a testament to the power of companionship. It speaks volumes about our shared human experience—our need for companionship and understanding.

Another notable aspect of KAWS' sculptures is the material. He uses wood, aluminium, and bronze to create his larger-than-life pieces. The choice of material is integral to the finished product, adding a certain heft and permanence to his work.

KAWS art, particularly his sculptures, is more than just a feast for the eyes. They invite the viewer to ponder, to question, and to engage in a dialogue about the world around us. Next time you come across a KAWS sculpture, don't just take a selfie with it. Take a moment to understand the story it's trying to tell. You might just walk away with a new perspective.

Examination of KAWS' Paintings

Switching gears from the grandeur of KAWS' sculptures, let's turn our attention to the subtler, but equally compelling, world of KAWS' paintings. Think of it as shifting from the loud, outdoor concert to the intimate, acoustic set. Equally captivating but in a different way.

KAWS' paintings often feature familiar cartoon characters in unfamiliar, sometimes unsettling, situations. For example, his Spongebob Squarepants-inspired paintings. Normally, you'd expect to see Spongebob flipping Krabby Patties at the Krusty Krab, but in KAWS' art, you're more likely to see him with his eyes crossed out, a recurring theme in KAWS' work.

Why the crossed-out eyes? Well, it's KAWS' signature style. It's his way of saying, "This is my work. This is my interpretation of the world." It's a stark reminder that even the most familiar, comforting images can be seen in a new, thought-provoking light.

KAWS' painting technique is also worth noting. He uses acrylic paint on canvas, resulting in vibrant, colorful images that catch the eye. He paints with precision and attention to detail, giving his work a polished, professional look.

In short, KAWS' paintings are a perfect blend of familiar and unfamiliar, comfort and discomfort. They challenge us to see the world from a different perspective. So next time you see a KAWS painting, don't just glance at it—really look at it. You might be surprised by what you see.

Analysis of KAWS' Prints

Now let's dive into the world of KAWS' prints—another facet of KAWS' art that showcases his unique vision. Just like his paintings, KAWS' prints are known for their striking visuals and thought-provoking themes.

One notable aspect of KAWS' prints is the use of silkscreen printing. This technique involves forcing ink through a mesh screen onto a surface, resulting in sharp, vibrant images. It's a process that requires a keen eye for detail and a steady hand—qualities that KAWS certainly possesses.

KAWS' prints often feature his iconic crossed-out eyes on characters from pop culture, similar to his paintings. However, they also incorporate other elements, such as the 'X' and 'XX' symbols that have become synonymous with the KAWS brand. These symbols add a layer of complexity to his work, making each piece a visual puzzle to decipher.

Also, it's interesting to note that KAWS often releases his prints in limited editions. This not only adds to their exclusivity but also increases their value in the art market. Owning a KAWS print is like having a piece of contemporary art history in your hands!

So, if you ever get a chance to view KAWS' prints, take a moment to appreciate the intricate details and the thought that went into each piece. Remember, it's not just about the final image—it's about the process and the intention behind it.

Overview of KAWS' Toy Designs

Right, let's move on to another fascinating aspect of KAWS' art—his toy designs. KAWS' toys are not your average playthings. Instead, they're a playful blend of art and popular culture that has earned him fans from all over the world.

KAWS began designing toys in the late 1990s, and since then, his creations have become highly sought after by collectors. They often take the form of familiar characters, such as Mickey Mouse or Snoopy, but with a unique KAWS twist. His signature crossed-out eyes and 'X' motifs are ever-present, giving each toy a distinctive look that screams 'KAWS'.

What's more, KAWS' toys are typically made from vinyl—a material that's durable yet flexible. This allows him to experiment with different shapes and sizes, resulting in a diverse range of toys that cater to different tastes.

So, why does KAWS create toys? Well, it's a way for him to connect with a wider audience. Not everyone might be able to afford a KAWS painting or sculpture, but a KAWS toy? That's a piece of KAWS art that's more accessible to the masses. Plus, they're just plain fun!

So the next time you see a KAWS toy, don't dismiss it as just a toy. It's a piece of art in its own right, reflecting KAWS' unique style and creativity. And who knows, it might just inspire you to start a KAWS collection of your own!

KAWS' Influences on Contemporary Art

KAWS' impact on contemporary art is undeniably significant. His unique interpretation of pop culture, coupled with his distinctive artistic style, has influenced a whole generation of artists. So, what exactly is KAWS' influence on contemporary art?

Firstly, KAWS has blurred the lines between high art and commercial art. His work with toys and fashion—areas typically considered 'commercial'—has raised questions about what constitutes 'art'. Can a vinyl toy or a t-shirt be a piece of art? According to KAWS, the answer is a resounding 'yes'.

Moreover, KAWS' art is often a commentary on society and popular culture. His use of well-known characters in unexpected ways forces us to reconsider our perceptions and beliefs. It's a way for KAWS to critique society, and it's this thought-provoking aspect of his work that has influenced many contemporary artists.

Lastly, KAWS' work has highlighted the power of accessibility in art. His toys, prints, and collaborations with brands have made his art accessible to a wider audience, proving that art doesn't have to be confined to galleries or museums—it can be a part of our everyday lives.

So, the next time you come across a piece of KAWS art, take a moment to appreciate not just the art itself, but also the impact it has had on the art world. You might be surprised at how much there is to discover!

How to Identify KAWS' Art

Unraveling the mystery behind the unique appeal of KAWS art starts with knowing how to identify it. So, how do you distinguish a genuine piece of KAWS art from the rest? Here are some pointers that might help.

First off, KAWS art often employs a bold and vibrant color palette. Colors pop out, make a statement, and create an immediate visual impact. If you see a piece of art that uses color in this way, you might be looking at a KAWS.

Secondly, KAWS art is known for its signature characters. One of the most recognizable is 'Companion', a Mickey Mouse-like figure with crossed out eyes. Other characters include 'Chum', 'Accomplice', and 'BFF'. If you spot these characters, you're likely looking at a piece of KAWS art.

Finally, KAWS art often references pop culture. From SpongeBob SquarePants to The Simpsons, KAWS art is filled with familiar characters, but portrayed in a unique and thought-provoking way. If you see a piece of art that turns pop culture on its head, it might just be a KAWS!

Remember, learning to identify KAWS art is like learning a new language—it takes time. But with practice, you'll soon be spotting KAWS art wherever you go!

KAWS Collection Practices

So, you've learned how to spot KAWS art, but what about building a collection? What should you know about KAWS collection practices? Let's dig into that.

Firstly, it's important to know that KAWS art isn't just about paintings and sculptures. KAWS also produces prints, toys, and even clothing. That means there are lots of different ways to start your KAWS collection. For example, you could start by collecting KAWS prints, which are often more affordable than his larger pieces.

Secondly, remember that KAWS art is popular. Very popular. That means you're not the only one trying to add a KAWS to your collection. High demand can make getting your hands on a KAWS a bit of a challenge. But don't worry! With patience and persistence, you can do it.

Finally, it's worth noting that KAWS art can be a good investment. In fact, some pieces have sold for millions at auction. But remember, art is about more than just money. It's about passion, expression, and connection. So, collect KAWS art because you love it, not because you think it'll make you rich.

Collecting KAWS art can be a rewarding journey. So, why not start today? Who knows, you might just find your new passion!

KAWS' Art and The Market

Now that we've explored KAWS collection practices, let's turn our attention to how KAWS art interacts with the broader art market. There's no doubt about it - KAWS has made a splash. But what does that mean for you, and for the world of art?

Well, first off, KAWS' rise to fame has shaken up the art world. Traditionally, the art market has been somewhat reserved, focusing on classical techniques and established artists. KAWS, with his bold colors, cartoonish figures, and pop culture influence, has turned that on its head. He's helped to bring street art and pop art into the mainstream, proving that art doesn't have to be stuffy or elitist.

What's more, KAWS' success has shown that art can be accessible to all. You don't need to be a millionaire to own a piece of KAWS art. From his affordable toys to his mass-produced prints, KAWS has made it possible for anyone to own a piece of his work. And that's a pretty powerful thing.

Finally, let's not forget the impact of KAWS on the art market itself. KAWS' work regularly sells for high prices, with some pieces fetching millions at auction. This has helped to boost the overall value of the art market, and has proven that contemporary art can be just as valuable as classical art.

So, KAWS' art and the market? They're more intertwined than you might think. And that's a testament to the power and impact of KAWS' work.

If you enjoyed learning about KAWS Art and want to explore similar artistic techniques, check out the workshop 'Inventing Gods & Monsters' by Cat Johnston. This workshop will help you dive into the creative process of inventing unique characters and narratives, enhancing your artistic skills and imagination.