Continuing his practice of incorporating beloved cartoon characters into his work – previously he has turned to The Smurfs, The Simpsons and Mickey Mouse – KAWS returns with Kawsbob, a close cropped image of everyone’s favourite sea dwelling sponge flooded with red in a masterful act of appropriation. This work particularly shows the influence of the father of Pop Art, Andy Warhol – who began by cropping a black and white publicity image of Marilyn Monroe which he then proceeded to drench in colour to create an icon from an icon – but while Warhol’s attitude to fame was perhaps one of reverence here we find KAWS’ use of pop culture more playful, perhaps even satirical, and perfectly at home in the ironic age of the early 21st century.
While SpongeBob’s large round eyes have been given the KAWS treatment, their pupils crossed out, his goofy smile and freckled cheeks remain instantly recognisable. This use of popular imagery speaks to KAWS’ ability to fit into the milieu of the everyman as well as the art collector. Speaking of his beginnings as a graffiti artist, which allowed him to proliferate his tag across Manhattan and New Jersey, he says, “When I was doing graffiti, my whole thought was, ‘I just want to exist.’ I want to exist with this visual language in the world… It meant nothing to me to make paintings if I wasn’t reaching people.” In this way KAWS is following in the footsteps of fellow Pop artists Warhol, Jean Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring, working on the street and in editions to ensure his art reaches everyone. While his original artworks attract astronomical prices at auction his prints are still an affordable investment.
As well as creating screen prints of his work, KAWS has also collaborated with a number of streetwear brands ensuring even teens can wear one of his t shirts. He also sells his own line of Companion toys that have become his trademark collectable.
As contemporary art specialist Noah Davis has said, “No cartoon is safe from being consumed and turned into KAWS”, and in this work we see the artist’s powers of appropriation at their height, the flat art of the cartoon converted into a slick graphic screen print that will complement any collection of contemporary art. An artist at the height of his career KAWS continues to take the art world by storm with his irreverent approach to fine art, his unmistakable style winning the hearts of both kids and collectors.