Catch KAWS’ cartoon-inspired art at the AGO this winter
The American artist and art collector’s successful use of pop culture motifs have brought his work into the mainstream across the world.

Brooklyn-based artist Brian Donnelly, more famously known as KAWS, was born in 1974 in Jersey City, New Jersey. The Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) is currently hosting an original exhibition of his sculptures, paintings, wall murals, altered phone booth advertisements, and product collaborations until March 2024. The exhibition which is curated by Julian Cox, AGO’s deputy director and chief curator, features a larger-than-life painted bronze sculpture titled FAMILY (2021), featuring figures of varying sizes posing as a nuclear family. 

Akin to the pop artists of the ’60s, his colossal sculptures are often reminiscent of cartoons, and his hard-edge work playfully highlights line and colour. Donnelly’s work blurs the distinctions between art by intersecting mass media imagery and conventional art and extending beyond the boundaries of the art world. 

Graduating from the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan in 1996, he worked in an animation studio and took various trips around the globe slowly commodifying his work. He has built his career over the last two decades by creating consumer products and collaborations with various global brands that possess humour and inspiration from pop-culture animations. 

His brand was catalyzed by his first trip to Japan, leading to clothing collaborations with Japanese streetwear companies such as Hectic and Undercover. Some other collaborations include work with General Mills, Nike, Supreme, Comme des Garçons, and Christian Dior. Uniqlo, a global clothing brand with a store located in Square One Shopping Centre in Mississauga, Ontario, is currently selling an exclusive collection of T-shirts featuring his artwork. 

His work often appropriates imagery from various cartoons, part of classic American animation, such as The Simpsons, The Smurfs, Peanuts, Sesame Street and SpongeBob SquarePants. His work often presents various themes that are integral to daily lives, as seen in companionship (CHUM (2002), SHARE (2019), BFF (2016)), friendship (MAN’S BEST FRIEND (2014)), and more recently Lost Futures (2020-2023), which is inspired by the feeling of being locked up during the extended lockdowns due to the Covid-19 pandemic measures.

Before gaining a professional reputation in the art world, KAWS’s work was showcased on New York City’s urban landscape through graffiti and advertisements. In 2013, he created a large-scale mural on the wall of a building in downtown Brooklyn, commissioned by the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM). A scaled-down canvas to model the mural can be found at the AGO Welcome Desk of Level 1, titled UNTITLED (BAM) (2013). 

His work has been presented at various institutions: the Serpentine Gallery, London, UK; National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne; Brooklyn Museum, New York; Museum of Contemporary Art, Detroit; High Museum of Art, Atlanta; Fire Station, Qatar Museums, Doha; Mori Arts Center Gallery, Tokyo; and the Yuz Museum, Shanghai. He is currently represented by Skarstedt Gallery in New York.


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