KAWS was born Brian Donnelly in Jersey City, New Jersey. He graduated from the School of visual Arts in New York with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in illustration in 1996. After graduation, KAWS briefly worked for Disney as a freelance animator painting backgrounds. He also contributed to the animated series 101 Dalmatians, Daria and Doug.
He began his career as a graffiti artist growing up in Jersey City, New Jersey. Later moving to New York City in the 1990s, KAWS started subverting imagery on billboards, bus shelters and phone booth advertisements. These reworked advertisements were at first left alone, lasting for up to several months, but as KAWS’ popularity skyrocketed, the ads became increasingly sought after. In addition to New York, KAWS has done work in Paris, London, Berlin and Tokyo.
KAWS’ acrylic paintings and sculpture have many repeating images, all meant to be universally understood, surpassing languages and cultures. One of KAWS’ early series, Package Paintings, was made in 2000. This series, entitled The Kimpsons, subverted the famous American cartoon, The Simpsons. KAWS explains that he “found it weird how infused a cartoon could become in people’s lives; the impact it could have, compared to regular politics.” In addition, KAWS has reworked other familiar icons such as Mickey Mouse, the Michelin Man, the Smurfs, and SpongeBob SquarePants.
Early supporters and collectors of his work are street-wear designer Nigo of a Bathing Ape fame and the musician Pharrell Williams.
KAWS has been periodically showing both paintings and products at Colette in Paris since 1999. His work is included in the traveling exhibition Beautiful Losers, which started at the Cincinnati Contemporary Art Center and will be traveling through 2009 throughout the US and Europe, including his largest museum show to date, which will be held at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Georgia.
Solo exhibitions include OriginalFake at the Bape Gallery in Tokyo (2003) where his sculpture “Wonderful World” sold for $400,000.
KAWS’s “Companion,” a grayscale figure based on Mickey Mouse with his face obscured by both hands, was adapted into a balloon for the 2012 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade as part of the parade’s “Blue Sky Gallery” feature.
Not a stranger to creating oversized sculptures he started to produce further sculptures of his “Companion” character for exhibitions in Switzerland, Hong Kong, Malaga and London. Apart from creating paintings and sculptures, KAWS does release high quality screen prints as well.