Best Friend

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Critical Review

Another KAWs take on a beloved cartoon character, in this case Snoopy, Man’s Best Friend is a series of 10 monochrome screen prints. With 10 individual screen prints, each measuring 35 x 22 inches, KAWS creates a monumental homage to Snoopy of Peanuts fame. While earlier works saw KAWS depict the character in bold colours, here Snoopy is rendered in a black and white sketch-like style, the lines uncharacteristically scrawled onto the page. The various repeated figures of the dog overlap so that the final image becomes a messy composite less in keeping with the clean aesthetic of KAWS’ other screen prints. The works appear almost to be taken from the pages of a sketchbook, acting more like studies for a final painting or print, rather than the finished product itself. But herein lies the attraction and uniqueness of this work. Particularly for its loose, more expressionist style, this is a rarity in KAWS’ oeuvre. Here the artist’s talent as a draughtsman is put on centre stage, along with his artistic maturity, as represented by the sombre colours chosen to depict the subject matter.

The subject however is entirely in keeping with the rest of KAWS’ work. The artist has been appropriating cartoon characters since the late ’90s beginning with his Companion figure who first appeared in a series of ‘subvertisements’ which saw KAWS removing adverts from New York bus shelters and phone booths in order to take them home and paint over them with acrylic. It was from here that the Companion grew to become a vinyl toy that has evolved into the icon as we know it today from countless public art installations and exhibitions.

Over the course of his career, KAWS has interrogated what cartoons mean to us, and what it means when pop culture becomes bigger than the traditional culture of so-called ‘high art’ or even current affairs. The artist explains he ‘found it weird how infused a cartoon could become in people's lives; the impact it could have, compared to regular politics.’ By distributing his prints in large editions, and as both prints and toys as well as affordable t-shirts through collaborations with brands such as Uniqlo, KAWS also plays with ideas of accessibility, like Keith Haring before him, inviting both kids and collectors alike to own a piece of his work. With these pieces, published in an edition of 100, KAWS presents a further evolution of a well-loved cartoon, bringing it to contemporary audiences in a new and daring form.

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