KAWS Brings Companionship In The Age of Loneliness

In his first Australian exhibition at the National Gallery Victoria, American artist and designer Brian Donnelly, professionally known as KAWS brings his body of work full of humour, hope and humanity to connect with Australian audiences. 

Brian Donnelly aka KAWS – presenting his iconic blue character BFF

The exhibition at the NVG which started in September this year has already astounded Australian audiences in bewilderment and wonder. Recognised globally KAWS is admired for his larger than life sculptures and bizarre colourful paintings. KAWS draws upon the pop culture aesthetic and pop culture iconography creating a hybridisation of cartoon and human characters which form a postmodern visual experience.

Who is KAWS?

KAWS at his studio in Brooklyn, New York. Photo Credit: Vanity Fair

Born in 1974 in Jersey City, New Jersey, the humble beginnings of Brian Donnelly began straight after his university education at the University of Visual Arts in New York. Completing a Bachelor of Fine Arts in illustration he began working as a freelance animator for animated series 101 DalmatiansDaria and Doug. Working up the ranks in the New York graffiti scene in the 1990s, he frequently tagged walls and freight trains with the letters K A W S and thus the name KAWS was born.

For those who are unknown to Donnelly’s work, his artwork stems from pop culture and iconography creating statue or animated figures with its trademark cross marked eyes. Donnelly’s ambition as an artist is to create art open for everyone.

Some of his famous work subverts pop cultural iconography such as The Simpsons,  Mickey Mouse, the Michelin Man, the Smurfs, Snoopy, and SpongeBob SquarePants. Donnelly has also collaborated with Japanese fashion retailer Uniqlo and with rappers such as Kanye West and Pharrell Williams.

KAWS – The Kaw’s Album from the Kimpsons series – An appropriation of television animated sitcom The Simpsons. Photo credit: Widewalls

The documentary called ‘The Evolution of KAWS’ Street Art Aesthetic’ by Bloomberg gives an indepth presentation to KAWS’ background and philosophy on art. At the 1:40 mark KAWS explains he does not impose such feelings of reactions upon his audiences but just wants them to take in what they feel or appreciate about his art.

What to see from KAWS at the NGV

KAWS conceptual artwork on Kanye West’s Album 808’s & Heartbreak album photo credit: Pinterest

The NGV show is called Companionship in the Age of Loneliness and draws on the emotional resonances in KAWS’ work. Donnelly instills his playful take on popular cartoons with loneliness and longing, and the show promises to respond to toxic public discourse and the cruel nature of social media.

The exhibition is divided into four distinct themes: “Public Interventions,” “Iconography,” “Order And Chaos,” and “Companionship.”

Audiences will be expected to observe how KAWS’ artwork develops and insinuates fragility and darkness in each of those categories. And at an up close introspection of the artworks, viewers will peer into the vulnerable poses of the characters.

According to the NGV website, the exhibition will include a newly commissioned 7-metre bronze sculpture called GONE.  The sculpture is standing solemnly in a Pietà pose (think of Michelangelo) which displays KAWS’ trademark character holding a deceased Sesame Street like character. The appropriation of combining a Renaissance work and a iconic childhood television show demonstrates KAWS’  ability to present something that is mixture of reactions. If this sculpture represents an observation of contemporary pop culture, there is definitely an undercurrent here filled with sorrow, misplacement and empathy.

KAWS’ ‘Pieta’ esque GONE. Photo credit: Art Fix Daily

Alongside the main exhibition, KAWS will present a new show aimed at kids called Playtime.

Coinciding with the exhibition is a dedicated presentation for kids entitled “PLAYTIME.” The show introduces KAWS’ distinct visual language to young visitors. The additional exhibition that is targeted to kids,  is an interactive, touch-focused installation centered around KAWS’ bright blue BFF character, complete with soft sculptures and a hands-on multimedia game. This simulation aims to show kids and young promising artists Donnelly’s creative process in how he integrates pop culture iconography into his work.

KAWS’ Companionship in the Age of Loneliness exhibition is currently on show, ending in April, 2020.

For more information about the exhibition at the NGV take a look at their website listed here

To view more art from KAWS check out his Instagram page here

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