Fans of the subversive artist and pop culture phenomenon should take note of Phillips upcoming contemporary art and design auction.
In Phillips’ upcoming 20th Century & Contemporary Art & Design Day Sale, a rare Kaws piece has sneaked its way back onto the auction circuit. The painting, Untitled (Stormtroopers), was created in 2000, and is part of the American artist’s early works.
Born in 1974 in New Jersey, Kaws (whose real name is Brian Donnelly) attended New York’s School of Visual Arts. In the Big Apple in the 1990s, he did illustrations for such animated shows as Daria, 101 Dalmatians, and Doug.
This beginning in animation is also reflected in his portfolio, with many of his works representing a subverted interpretation of popular cartoon characters. His “Companion,” an image that has become closely associated with the artist, is based off on Mickey Mouse while “The Kimpsons,” of course, is his take on The Simpsons.
Outside of his day job, Kaws explored his passion for graffiti art by creating subversive imagery out of anything from bus shelters, billboards, and phone booths around New York. (Later on, he would do the same in capitals like Paris, Berlin, London, and Tokyo.)
His disruptive approach reflected a desire to redefine what artists are inspired by. While he admired high art creators such as Chuck Close and Gerhard Richter, Kaws transcended the traditional and appealed to a wider audience.
“When I was younger, I wasn’t going to galleries, I wasn’t going to museums,” he says. “There was a lot of ‘this is fine art’ or ‘this is not fine art’; ‘this is commercial’, ‘this is high art’. In my mind I thought, art’s purpose is to communicate and reach people. Whichever outlet that’s being done through is the right one.”
Despite this sentiment, many museums have come to love and honor Kaws. His works, including his popular toy line, have been shown in such places as the MoMa and the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego. A retrospective of the artist’s works is currently displayed at the Brooklyn Museum.
Many big names in music count themselves fans of the artist’s works, among them music producer Swizz Beatz, Pharrell Williams, and members of the South Korean supergroup BTS. His collaborations over the years, meanwhile, include ones with Nigo, Uniqlo, and Comme des Garçons.
Kaws’ work that will go under the hammer in a few days features many of his usual artistic elements.
“One Stormtrooper’s face is covered with the distinctive flat cartoon-like mask formed from a piratical skull and crossed bones, each eye socket crossed out with an X, symbols that have been consistently present in KAWS’s work over the years,” reads the description in the Phillips website.
Coiling snake-like creatures, similar to that of Kaws’ early street graffiti, embrace the other storm troopers. “His purposeful interpenetration, instead of simple superimposition, harmoniously interweaves modification with original form,” Phillips continues to explain, adding that the use of mixed media to get a message across is the artist’s trademark.
“UNTITLED (STORMTROOPER)comes to market as a rare and important early example of the rich multi-layered artistic discourse of KAWS’s work, where his unapologetic cultural commentary resonates with contemporary audiences.”
Kaws’ Stormtrooper piece is estimated to sell for $205,000 to 333,000. Phillips’ 20th Century & Contemporary Art & Design Day Sale is set for June 7, 2021.
For more information, visit Phillips.com.