KAWS returns to Los Angeles for his third solo exhibition at Honor Fraser Gallery. MAN’S BEST FRIEND includes new drawings, paintings, and sculpture. KAWS is a current nominee for the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s James Dicke Contemporary Artist Prize.
KAWS’s recent work furthers his ideas about the power of images to communicate beyond their expected realms. Made on canvas stretched over wood panels, each work in KAWS’s new series of shaped paintings takes on the silhouette of a familiar figure from animated cartoons and comic strips. Within the shapes, KAWS has interwoven multiple characters that are frozen in different states of movement. Rendered in bright colors and with acute precision, these works suggest a core sample of pop cultural references that have been manipulated just short of illegibility. Black and white works featuring portions of enlarged Charles M. Schulz drawings are counterpoints to the exhibitions’ works in color, and a large-scale landscape pictures one character chasing another through a dystopian scene of environmental disaster. Underlying all of KAWS’s work is a deep ambivalence around culturally held notions of entertainment and fun and its relationship to advanced art. Through his stylized adaptations of icons of American animation, he accesses a collective consciousness to mirror our ongoing addiction to the culture industry, an addiction that is fueled just as much by our own acceptance of its machinations as by its own intentions.
In his new black and white works, what appear to be non-representational images are variations on small details of Charles M. Schulz’s iconic drawings of characters from his Peanuts series. Original Peanuts comic strips appeared in American and international newspapers every day from 1950 until Schulz’s death in 2000, establishing the characters as significant figures in the American pop cultural vernacular for generations of young people. In this series, KAWS has enlarged tiny instances from the familiar renderings of Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Lucy, Pig-Pen, et al. Remaining faithful to Schulz’s original line drawings, KAWS has executed a grid of fifty works on paper. Though the Peanuts characters are blown so far out of proportion that they are nearly unrecognizable, KAWS leaves just enough information for us to identify his subjects, underscoring the ubiquity of these figures and the power of the repetition of images to enter our cultural memory.
While KAWS’s practice often involves appropriating fictional characters from mainstream popular culture, he has also given form to a small family of characters of his own invention. Figures like Companion and Chum have taken a wide variety of forms, from hand-held editioned figurines to monumental public sculptures. For this exhibition, KAWS has made a Corian sculpture cast in the form of Warm Regards, one of his original characters that has appeared in paintings, editioned figurines, and bas relief tiles. In this new work, a silhouette of Warm Regards is filled in with the gigantic mouth of KAWSBob, KAWS’s version of SpongeBob SquarePants. A pair of enormous white eyeballs marked with KAWS’s signature “X”s is layered over the mouth. Though the figure is posed with arms outstretched in a welcoming stance, its surreal facial configuration confuses any implied conviviality. KAWS’s new work in Corian allows for a unique type of painting in space that brings dimension to line. Exploring new formal territory, this move from two to three dimensions eschews volume in favor of flatness.
KAWS was born in Jersey City, New Jersey in 1974 and received a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the School of Visual Arts in New York City in 1996. He lives in Brooklyn, New York. One person exhibitions of his work have been presented at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Fort Worth, TX (2011 and forthcoming in 2016); Centro de Arte Contemporáneo, Málaga, Spain (2014); Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, Overland Park, KS (2013); Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, PA (2013); High Museum of Art, Atlanta, GA (2011 and 2012); Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Ridgefield, CT (2010 and 2011); and MU Art Foundation, Eindhoven, Netherlands (2002). KAWS has been included in thematic exhibitions such as Art in the Streets, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, CA (2011); The Reflected Gaze – Self Portraiture Today, Torrance Art Museum, Torrance, CA (2010); Plastic Culture, Harris Museum and Art Gallery, Preston, UK (2010); and Beautiful Losers, Le Tri Postal, Lille, France; Palazzo dell’Arte, Milan, Italy; USF Contemporary Art Museum, Tampa, FL; Contemporary Museum, Baltimore, MD; Orange County Museum of Art, Newport Beach, CA; Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco, CA; and Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH (2004).