Honor Fraser Gallery is pleased to present Hold The Line, KAWS’s second solo exhibition with the gallery. In a new group of paintings and sculpture, Brooklyn-based artist KAWS delivers stylized adaptations of visual icons in American animation.
Along with the existential emotive and psychotropic narrative avenues KAWS opens up for his altered versions of iconic animated characters, the artist’s works also provide the viewer with a richly rewarding and expansive formal consideration. Non-naturalistic color takes on new meaning in the case where there is no living, breathing, original referent for characters born of cell animation (such as SpongeBob SquarePants). Nevertheless, the unconventional palette in KAWS’s paintings–from high impact contrasts to monochromatic use of fluorescents, primaries, and darker tones–simultaneously defamiliarizes the ubiquitous characters while accentuating the reductive geometric play that abounds in their volumes and surfaces. In recent paintings, figures seem buoyed in the zero-gravity aftermath of a cartoon explosion, entangled in a dynamic composition of unmoored planks, bricks, or tentacles of color. In Hold The Line, a large group of tondo paintings feature extreme close-ups of the face of KAWSBob, a recurring subject in the works on canvas. The circular edges of the picture plane resonate with cartoonish facial features: the scaled-up, concisely-painted, hard-edged curves of eyelids, undulating nose, and blocky, rectangular teeth are zoomed and cropped to an extent that offers the face as a kind of color field.
The artist adopts and upends conventions taken from popular animation. KAWS’s figures have long borne distinctive “x x” marks over their eyes–as if intoxicated, poisoned, or pushing daisies. Most characters, upon entering the KAWS lexicon, find their heads transformed into a puffy skull-and-crossbones. These visual reformulations can be found in what is perhaps KAWS’s signature figure, Companion, a Mickey Mouse-esque character that first appeared in a toy-edition in 1999, but which has since been produced in nearly every medium in which the wide-reaching artist works. At larger-than-human-scale, two new Companion sculptures refer to the artist’s recent work in monumental sculpture. Here, the figures project a vivacity, posture, and presence befitting a “look inside” the flawless toy-like surface of one of the artist’s most iconic characters.
The strong graphic identity fueling his practice enables the artist to extend his cadre of characters–Accomplice, Chum, Companion, KAWSBob, Kimpsons, Kurfs, and others–across boundless cultural platforms, from gallery and museum shows of his paintings and sculpture, to a broad range of collaborative engagements creating graphics and designs for magazines, products, apparel, and recording artists (such as Levi’s, Comme des Garçons, and Kanye West), to independently developing and distributing toy lines and other products in the dedicated KAWS boutique, OriginalFake, in Tokyo.
Born in 1974 in New Jersey, KAWS graduated with a BFA from the School of Visual Arts in New York. He has recently had solo exhibitions at The Aldrich Museum, Galerie Perrotin in Paris, and Galeria Javier Lopez in Madrid. He has been included in group exhibitions at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, Torrrance Art Museum, Orange County Museum of Art, Yerba Buena Arts Center, San Francisco, and the Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati. KAWS has upcoming solo exhibitions at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth and the High Museum in Atlanta. He has had four monographs published about his work, the most recent in 2010 by Skira/Rizzoli.