American graffiti artist and designer KAWS is best known for his vandalised cartoons and the now-iconic Companion figure. If you are looking to buy or sell a KAWS original print or edition, browse artwork available from our network and enquire to speak to the team. We offer free and confidential valuations and market advice on any KAWS print, with zero obligation to sell.
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KAWS is an American graffiti artist and designer renowned for his toys, prints and his ‘subvertisements.’ Famed for its set of cartoon-like characters, KAWS's art parodies popular cultural icons such as Disney’s Mickey Mouse and operates at the interface between the commercial and fine art worlds and is often compared to the likes of Andy Warhol and Jeff Koons.
Born in 1974 in the metropolitan area of New York, surrounded by a burgeoning graffiti and street art scene, KAWS produced his first pieces whilst in elementary school. It was then that he devised his own tag: KAWS. A meaningless word, he chose it simply because he liked the way the letters looked together. Moving to New York in the 1990s, KAWS began to experiment with an artistic process dubbed ‘Subvertising’. Through subvertising, KAWS would remove advertisements from phone booths and bus stops and replaced them with his own signature cartoon characters, tagging the city with his distinctively parodic style.
A decisive moment in the artist's career came when he met the owner of the Japanese toy company Bounty Hunter, Hikaru Iwanaga. Following Iwanaga’s suggestion, KAWS designed a toy for the company, his signature Pop Art-inspired Companion character – a Mickey Mouse-like figure with crossed-out eyes – now KAWS' greatest critical and commercial success. Collaborating with fashion juggernauts like Nike and Dior Homme, Companion is now a worldwide phenomenon that has taken over the world.
Since then, KAWS continued to develop his cartoonesque universe, appropriating and parodying popular cartoons through his signature x-crossed eyes and skull motifs. Two of these bodies of works, Kurfs and Kimpsons, respectively recasting The Smurfs and The Simpsons, have become some of KAWS’ most successful works at auction, fetching sums well above the million-pound threshold. Transformed into his Companion motif, his Untitled (Kimpsons No.1) was one of his most expensive works sold at auction, selling for a whopping £6 million at Sotheby’s, Hong Kong, while his Kurf (HOT DOG) sold for £2.1 million at auction at Sotheby’s, New York.
A lover of video games and cartoons, it is no surprise that KAWS would be one of the first artists to venture in the world of augmented reality. In 2022, in collaboration with Acute Art, KAWS held his first large-scale exhibition in London, NEW FICTION, featuring his signature Companion motif and other works. KAWS and Acute Art also banded together with Epic Games’ popular online multiplayer Fortnite, to offer a digital version of the exhibition for players to view.
The KAWS Album © KAWS 2005
When THE KAWS ALBUM was carried into Sotheby’s NIGOLDENEYE® Vol.1 auction in Hong Kong on 1 April 2019, spectators grabbed their phones to document auction history in the making. Bidding started at HK$5 million and a battle quickly unfolded in the saleroom and over the telephones. The painting eventually sold for almost 15 times its high estimate, smashing the previous auction record set for KAWS only a year before.
THE KAWS ALBUM – a parody of The Beatles’ 1967 Sgt. Pepper album cover but featuring KAWS’s signature Kimpsons characters – was formerly owned by Japanese fashion designer, DJ and entrepreneur NIGO®, a long-time collector and collaborator of KAWS. His collection of street art and collectables achieved no fewer than three ‘white glove’ 100%-sold auctions at Sotheby’s in just five years.
Untitled (Kimpsons #1) © KAWS 2004
Standing almost nine feet tall, UNTITLED (KIMPSONS #1) is the largest of KAWS’s Kimpsons painting – immortalising the iconic Simpsons couch gag on a monumental scale.
KAWS first began creating the Kimpsons works in 2001 and they were his first formal paintings on canvas, bridging the gap between fine art, pop culture and parody. UNTITLED (KIMPSONS #1) was one in a series of Kimpsons paintings commissioned by NIGO® (who also owned the painting at #1 in this list). It belonged to a new owner by the time it was offered in Sotheby’s Hong Kong Contemporary Art Evening Sale on 6 October 2019, but still soared past its low estimate.
image © Phillips / The Walk Home © KAWS 2012
An unexpected highlight of Phillips’ 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale, The Walk Home sold for nearly ten times its low estimate on 16 May 2019 in New York. In this work, a reimagined SpongeBob SquarePants with KAWS’ signature x-crossed eyes – whom the artist calls Kawsbob – screams among dozens of disembodied arms. “SpongeBob was something I wanted to do because graphically I love the shapes… But honestly, I’ve never even watched it,” KAWS has admitted.
In The Woods © KAWS 2002