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Produced in 2018, Alone Again is a collection of three screen prints in by the critically acclaimed American artist and designer, KAWS. The bold and vibrant prints come in an edition size of 100 and were shown at a solo exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit in 2019 along with five of KAWS’ sculptures. The prints showcase KAWS’ unique visual style, characterised by a playful experimentation with an emphasis on colour, as well as the use of bold gestural lines and distinctive graphics.
The collection of prints are more abstract than much of KAWS’ earlier work which was inspired by graffiti and street art. As opposed to this collection, kaws’ early pieces tended to be centred around his cast of original cartoon characters, Bendy, Accomplice, Chum and Companion and graphic motifs such as crossed out eyes, skulls and crossbones.
KAWS’ visual style can be traced back to his youth and his passion for graffiti. KAWS, born Brian Donnelly, started experimenting with graffiti art while at school in New Jersey. ‘KAWS’ was in fact the tag he used when spray painting buildings, and the name stuck with the artist ever since then. Discussing why he chose this particular name, KAWS explains that there was no deep meaning or significance behind the letter combination, but that he simply found the combination of letters visually very appealing and balanced. The artist explains, “When your whole art is based on the lettering you choose, you kinda figure out what works together. I just liked the shapes of the k, a, w, s,”. KAWS continued to hone his artistic skills by studying Illustration at the School of Visual Arts in New York City, from which he received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in 1996. Alongside working as a freelance animator for Jumbo Pictures, working on the backgrounds of famous cartoon series such as 101 Dalmatians, Daria and Doug, KAWS took to the streets of New York, and continued practising his graffiti art.
It was in New York in the late 1990s that KAWS developed his practise known as ‘subvertising.’ The artist would unlock the cases of adverts that plastered phone booths and bus stops in order to deface the adverts and reconfigure them in his own graphic style. KAWS would wrap his distinctive cartoon figures around products and make the cartoons interact with the models, either lurking timidly behind them or clambering over them. KAWS would also draw over the faces of models, adding his signature skull and crossbone design, crossed out eyes and Mickey Mouse hands. The subvertising process can be likened to Banksy’s street art and KAWS went on to subvertise in cities all over the world, such as Paris, London, Berlin and Tokyo.
KAWS’ origins in street art and graffiti means the artist is frequently compared to Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat, two leading 20th century artists who emerged from the New York City graffiti subculture of the 1980s. The creation of a cast of cartoon figures and distinct graphic motifs also resonates strongly with the work of Haring and his impressive collection of repeated icons and motifs, such as the radiant baby, angel, flying devil and barking dog. KAWS’ characters are simple and charming and often appear in timid and shy poses. The characters have brought KAWS international recognition and fame, imbuing the artist with Pop status as a cultural icon of the 21st century who has successfully bridged the division between street art and high art.