KAWS is a notable limited-edition toy and clothing designer. He was born in Jersey City, NJ, as Brian Donnelly. Growing up in New Jersey, KAWS first became interested in graffiti in elementary school, where he spent a good deal of time copying graffiti images onto paper. His first influences were neighborhood children, who painted graffiti images on walls within his community. As he grew older, his influences came from traditional life painters, such as Gerhard Richter (German, b.1932), Klaus Oldenberg (Swedish, b.1929), and Chuck Close (American, b.1940).
KAWS’s career began as a graffiti artist in New York, NY, in the early 1990s. His images were seen on billboards, bus stops, and in phone booths. He obtained his BFA from the School of Visual Arts in New York. Immediately after graduation in 1996, KAWS began working as a freelance artist for Disney, creating animated backgrounds. Some of his most popular works include his contributions to 101 Dalmations, Daria, and Doug. Once KAWS began to gain popularity, his graffiti advertisements became highly sought after. He traveled extensively to work in Paris, London, Germany, and Japan. In 1998, he received the Pernod Liquid Art Award, which offers a grant to new artists.
In late 1990s, KAWS began to design and produce limited-edition toys. These gained international popularity, especially in Japan. He also began to collaborate on several different toys, including with Nigo (Japanese, b.1970) for A Bathing Ape. Some of KAWS’s other popular collaborative works include his redesign of Mickey Mouse, The Michelin Man, and SpongeBob SquarePants. The artist’s solo exhibitions have been held at The Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art in Ridgefield, CT, the Harris Museum in Preston, UK, the Parco Gallery in Tokyo, Japan, and the City Gallery Chastain in Atlanta, GA. His solo exhibition, OriginalFake at the Bape Gallery in Tokyo, Japan, featured a sculpture entitled Wonderful World, which sold for US$400,000. KAWS’s traveling exhibition, Beautiful Losers, toured throughout Europe and the United States and included a showing at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, GA. The artist currently lives and works in Brooklyn, NY.