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Companion is a collection of prints and designs produced by the notorious American artist and designer, KAWS. KAWS, also known as Brian Donnelly, has risen to international fame, taking the artworld by storm for his work which bridges the gap between art and design, as evidenced by this dynamic and varied collection of original pieces.
Each work in this collection features the cartoon character, Companion, created by KAWS in 1999. Companion is characterised by his distinct shape which is reminiscent of Mickey Mouse as well as his skull and crossbone head and crossed out eyes.
Companion is just one of a set of figurative characters created by KAWS. Other notable characters include Accomplice, Chum and Bendy. Many of KAWS’ cartoon characters are repeated throughout his artworks, recurring in different settings or in slightly different iterations. KAWS’ characters were initially drawn in 2D but have also been realised in 3D due to their popularity. In 1999, the Japanese toy company Bounty Hunter produced and sold a vinyl Companion toy and later, in 2012, Companion was adapted into a balloon for the 2012 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, as part of its “Blue Sky Gallery” of balloons. Having already created oversized sculptures in the past, KAWS started producing additional sculptures of Companion for exhibitions in Switzerland, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Málaga, London and China.
Companion is an example of KAWS’ artistic flair and creative talent, and in addition to creating his own original cartoon characters, KAWS has appropriated and adapted familiar figures such as Mickey Mouse, the Smurfs, characters from Sesame Street and The Simpsons, always in his characteristic, slightly morbid, visual style. In particular, in the early 2000s, KAWS produced a variety of works inspired by popular TV characters, such as SpongeBob Square Pants. As well as rendering these well-known characters in his unique graphic style, KAWS would playfully change their names, adding a ‘k’ to the beginning of them, for example, ‘KawsBob’ and ‘The Kimpsons.’ KAWS’ appropriation of popular cartoons can be seen as a satirical comment on contemporary society and globalised culture, particularly due to the melancholic air which imbues many of his artworks. Furthermore, KAWS has discussed his fascination with cartoons and the role they play in modern society. The artist explains: “[I] found it weird how infused a cartoon could become in people’s lives; the impact it could have, compared to regular politics.”
KAWS’ love for appropriating cartoons and popular culture stems from his time spent in New York. After graduating from the School of Visual Arts in 1996, with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in illustration, KAWS took to the streets as a graffiti artist, much like other prolific artists such as Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat. KAWS would roam the city, removing advertisement panels from bus stops and phone booths in order to deface the adverts and reconfigure them in his own graphic style. It was while KAWS was spray painting the streets of New York that the artist developed his earliest cartoon characters, such as Bendy and Accomplice.
The popularity of KAWS’ art and stock cartoon characters, like Companion, reflects how the artist has succeeded in blurring the lines between ‘high’ and ‘low’ art. His practice of appropriation and subversion of popular culture has resulted in KAWS being compared to the father of Pop Art, Andy Warhol, indicating that his name and artistic impact will endure, making him one of the leading artistic icons of the early 21st century.
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