In the mid-1990s, Brian Donnelly, aka “KAWS” began appropriating advertisements from bus shelters and phone booths in New York City (and then in Paris, London, Berlin, Tokyo) and painting graphic, cartoon-like skull-and-crossbones images into them. This work has been featured in numerous publications, as well as exhibited at galleries worldwide. His recent graffiti and product designs deploy knockoffs of emblematic pop culture characters – Mickey Mouse, the Michelin Man, the Smurfs, the Simpsons, and SpongeBob SquarePants – but with their faces turned into blank death masks with X’s for eyes. Turned-on by Tokyo’s underground toy-trading scene, he created his own limited-edition collectibles and opened a boutique, Original Fake, in the Aoyama district.
KAWS’ work treads the fine line between art, commerce, cartoons, and commercials. It is a disruption of, as well as a tribute to, all objects produced, bought, sold, exchanged, desired, and cherished.