As an encore presentation to last winter’s exhibition FOCUS: KAWS, which featured the work of Brooklyn-based artist KAWS (b. Brian Donnelly, 1974), the Modern Are Museum of Fort Worth is currently featuring the installation of the artist’s monumental sculpture COMPANION (PASSING THROUGH), 2010. The work has been on view at the Modern’s entrance since September 9, 2012. Originally scheduled to leave on January 6, the installation at the Modern has been extended through March 10.
KAWS often explores Pop-culture imagery in his work, borrowing from existing cartoon figures, advertisements, posters, television, and film. Tweaking and manipulating these universally identifiable images, KAWS morphs the familiar into something new. COMPANION (PASSING THROUGH) exemplifies this and represents one of the artist’s most iconographic recurring characters. The sixteen-foot tall sculpture, a human/animal/cartoon hybrid, is seen seated, head in hands. COMPANION has a Mickey Mouse body, complete with gloves, shorts, and cartoon-shaped shoes, like the original character. To this borrowed form, KAWS adds his own now unmistakable imprints-an inflated skull and X’s. Like Auguste Rodin’s The Thinker, 1903, COMPANION (PASSING THROUGH) reflects a modern-day human condition. We may initially feel connected to it through its recognizability; but we also sympathize with what it models to us: its posture and pose suggest sadness, fatigue, and the feeling of being overwhelmed.
KAWS (Brian Donnelly) was born in New Jersey, in 1974. His paintings, drawings, and sculpture have been widely exhibited at museums and art galleries. He is internationally known also as a graphic artist and a creator of highly sought-after, editioned toys, apparel, and other products. KAWS grew up in Jersey City, where he emerged as a graffiti artist in the early 1990s. He later studied at the School of Visual Arts (1993-1996), where he shifted his focus to creating public “interventions” by subverting imagery on billboards and advertisements in bus shelters and phone booths. This led to collaborations with commercial photographers and designers, resulting in original artworks that have been extensively published. KAWS comfortably straddles the commercial and fine art worlds with his work, which ranges from graphic, product, and industrial design to painting, drawings, sculpture, wall murals, and silkscreen prints. Working in the historical continuum of Pop Art, his recent paintings present abstracted cartoon imagery, making reference to both popular culture and the history of modern painting. Alternating between figuration and abstraction, KAWS’s work reflects the chaotic nature of contemporary culture.
A 40-foot long balloon of KAWS’s character COMPANION was recently featured in the 2012 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Upcoming projects include “Sculpture Plinth Exhibition Program” at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts Museum (2013); and a solo exhibition at CAC Malaga, Spain (2014).