ARTLURKER

A Miami based contemporary art newsletter / blog

Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin Miami “Saturated” by KAWS

KAWS (on canvas), 2007. Image courtesy of Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin, Paris/Miami

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It’s all there if you look for it and behind each ‘it’ that you find there’s a whole new world that makes ‘it’ possible. These days the trends and fads that once gripped playgrounds have evolved into huge multi-million dollar money makers that swell to gargantuan proportions, breed in our sleep and captivate we adults more than they do our children. For the past decade we have seen the various waves of the Japanese kawaii (meaning cute) movement in particular spill from Tokyo and spread like wild fire; this time not through playgrounds, but through collections, glossy magazines and art galleries.

Some would say that this is not so much kawaii as kowai (meaning scary) but before one passes judgment on these new cultures of our world they should first take a closer look around – our world has changed.

Artists have always served to reflect on their time and in doing so affect the course of history through a dissemination of cultural information. Today, just as before there is a wealth of relevant ideas, propaganda and of course the ever enduring human spirit from which to make work. Financial restitution has been an ever present driving force and media, in one form or another, to a certain extent has always had an effect. There is however a new variable to consider: speed.

Until recently the notion that an artist could become successful without a gallery seemed ridiculous but now with the aid of the internet, various fertile underground currents and a multitude of scene-fed fast-track tributaries that only the very ‘street’ know how to use; artists are beginning to take matters into their own hands. Our acceptance of what art is is changing and with it a new breed of makers are stepping up to the plate. Slipstreaming behind one another and riding the latest wave of branded, super collectible cyber kitsch; these rising stars of the contemporary art merchandise movement are making the rest of the emerging art world eat their dust. One such artist is KAWS.

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KAWS. Photograph by Terry Richardson. Image courtesy of ANP Quarterly and KAWSONE.

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Some what of a human Xerox machine, KAWS, since the early 90s’, has sought to vandalize and appropriate existing branded imagery. KAWS, although not technically kawaii, is almost certainly bracketed as being influenced by the various topical aftershocks emanating from the epicenter of the Japanese kawaii/manga/anime culture which really took off I guess with Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira in 1988 (at least for me). Having placed himself at the epicenter of the current contemporary art world’s toy town mentality KAWS, has happily struck gold; falling in as he has amidst some the genre’s main protagonists such as Takashi Murakami whom purchased his paintings.

Presumably through living in New York and moving in the right circles KAWS made a name for himself within appropriate spheres. And now that the rapper/producer’s Pharrell Williams and Lupe Fiasco and designers such as Nigo all love his work he is fully indoctrinated into the church of cool and as such is getting splurged all over the place.

But does that matter in the art world? The answer is yes, of course it does. But is that right? Nowadays it would seem as though so long as an artist lives in New York, has the right look and goes to a party where they might be photographed by Terry Richardson then they’re pretty much guaranteed to have a solo show with a major gallery sooner or later. It’s sad in many ways that this is the case but it has always been about who you know and not what you know. It’s just a shame that the rule of thumb for making it in any old profession can still (if not more so today) be so crudely yet pertinently applied to art– historically a practice which coveted the attributes of refinement, judgment and sophistication. And annoying that of late artistic careers can be negotiated based solely on the personal preferences of the rich and famous, especially tastes as inelegantly undiscriminating as those of Pharrell Williams.

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KAWS and REAS’ collaborations for the cover of and inside features of N*E*R*D and Lupe Fiasco for Complex magazine’s Aug/Sept issue. Images courtesy of complex.com

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We caught up with KAWS a few weeks ago to ask how he felt he contributed to the spirit of the age and society as a whole.

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KAWS, do you remember what first drove you to make work?

Making work was just a basic need, something that felt comfortable to me at an early age.


What is the most satisfying aspect of your practice today?

The most satisfying aspect of my practice is the opportunities I get to communicate with many people around the world.


If an iconoclast aims to destroy trends what are you?

I don’t find it important to label what I do.


Can you define what makes an image attractive to you?

I feel I define what makes an image attractive to me thru the work I create


In what ways do your appropriations negotiate our perceptions of them?

This is dependant entirely on the viewer.

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Terry Richardson with KAWS sculptures, paintings and merchandise at KAWS’ studio in New York. Image courtesy of KAWSONE.

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KAWS is currently represented by Gering & López Gallery in New York where he’ll have a show this November. Sandra Gering, Owner/Director of Gering & López Gallery, agreed to a short interview below:

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Where do you place KAWS in the art world?

He is the next great painter and sculptor working in the Pop tradition. His paintings are exceptional rifts on pop culture. He’s been mostly underground, only known to very few for a very long time, and I believe that now is the time for his debut in the gallery world.


What separates KAWS from other Pop icons that you collect/deal?

Just as Warhol used iconography from his time, KAWS is doing the same for his generation. KAWS’ imagery has also infiltrated the worlds of both music and fashion illustrating the continuity that exists between the different genres making up our generation’s “pop culture”.


What appeals to you most about KAWS or his work?

Beyond the bold and captivating colors, the precision and flatness of his paintings are impressive to me. Regarding the artist, I feel as though he is a fascinating individual who has yet to reach the pinnacle of his popularity within the art world.

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KAWS (on canvas), 2007. Image courtesy newphenomenon.wordpress.com

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The current exhibition at Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin Miami is KAWS’ first solo show in six years and is really the first time that the public have had the chance to see a large number of KAWS’ paintings up close. What is exciting about that is that owing to the nature of his practice—the reproduction and assimilation of printed media—most people, having seen his work mostly in magazines and on the web, assume that it is digitized or printed somehow. Contrary to the expectations of many, KAWS actually does paint all of his paintings to the extent that he is considered among those in the know to be more of a crafts-man—laboriously, fastidiously, anally perfecting everything until it has the look and feel of a ‘real reproduction.’ I find this to be by far the most interesting aspect of this show, and his oeuvre on the whole, as it reinforces his theme, legitimizes his practice and is defensive in regard to his lack of an aesthetic that he can call 100% his own.

Perhaps KAWS does not yet have what it takes for me to consider him a great artist but, my personal tastes aside, he is well on the way. The necessary philosophies of hard work and dedication to networking are clearly firmly imbedded in him, all that we wait for now is for him to decipher his own voice from the drone of copy write amalgamations that swarm in his mind each time he sits down to work and perhaps a little more irony (or maybe even some solemnity), to add depth to his playful output[.]

–Thomas Hollingworth

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For more information about this exhibition please visit: www.galerieperrotin.com

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5 Comments

  • david Rohn

    I do like Sponge Bob don t get me wrong-it s just that I had spongebob underwearbut it finally wore out and I sent the last of it to Haiti after Ike.
    I even had a birthday party ith spongebob paper plates and stuff- but that was several birthdays ago.
    I still like Hello Kitty but I don think I really want to see paintings selling for tens of thoousands that copy the image.the original off the shelf items seem more ‘right’.
    And those Flintstone paintings by Kenny Sharf back in the early ’80′s were really surprising but now…
    Guess I m just bored with some things-and that includes artspeak on ‘appropriation’ and ownership, and shit.
    So does this mean tht Paris Hilton is the best Performance artist?

    Or does it just mean that Kaws is the ‘Peter Max’ of the moment?
    How would I know.
    I think I d rather watch Basquiat and Britney-at least there s drama-these guys are too ready for prime time to be interesting.
    David Rohn

  • Richard_haden

    WOW, Low Brow X X X branding.
    To call his work vacuous is letting him off to easy. Kaws Image branding bares witness to his influence from early Wayne Thiebaud’s painted Micky Mouse…Thiebaud, who was apparently challenged by one of his kids to paint “Micky” satisfied his young critic and did…we can see how well that worked out. At least with Thiebaud you get a painter, with Donnelly you get the bills paid…why else such hype over hand painted canvas that might as well be made “Giclee” style (Giclee an invented name, of french origin, that means nozzle or to squirt, Basically a digital ink jet reproduction) I can see a trend at Perrotin ‘to get the bills paid’. So it must be–With this squirt, desiccating, graphics / sign painter– the M & M of hip hop graphic style–dips into art histories pop art section to produce Sponge.

    With several good artist in Perrotin’s stable, I am confused why this fellow from Brooklyn obtrudes Perrotin’s walls. I would think Kaws and Britto have more in common.

    The original New York school of Pop was fresh and unlike Thiebaud thought silk screen appropriate. Lichtenstein painted his bendy dots and Warhol screened away. But Kaws has already gone commercial and I can’t see why he would deprive Wallmart curators the chance at making him even richer, His stuf is colorfull and witless-the perfect Gimcrack design for the walls of childlike salon.

  • 2b

    In the 1980’s when all those graff artists began to break through in the gallery scene it was more unity….a real movement. They’re were group of artists making money from graff’s sudden popularity….it was “graff above ground”…only a few artists evolved from that era and still are rockin on canvas.
    (Futura…Crash…Lady Pink…etc) Dondi(rip) said, “In the underground your competing with other writers(artists) but aboveground everybody is searching for a style on canvas…it’s like beating the other guy to the punch, since there is only so much you can do with spray paint.” It’s why Kaws talent “seems” like it has superseded all these other graff writers (artists) but real heads know that’s not the case. Yes he has more exposure but that’s because of good marketing and promotion. Most graff have good can control…and can do tight shading with clean lines but ask them to do a style on canvas in a smaller scale and it just seems like something gets lost….all Kaws did was find a style on canvas that works…it’s really simplistic…a pop style rooted in pop tradition rather than traditional style writing tradition. Emeniem did the same thing in music and all the Hip-Hop artists were “shook” for a minute….but as the tide of time rolls on………only that will tell his significance as a authentic graff writer turned artist that has really made an impact…..or just another flash in the pan media monster who was the “chosen one” to fit in the artworld.(who has made the move from subculture to popculture)

    Kaws has taken lots of different influences…styles and modernized it to make it work for him. Don’t believe me….just goggle AL HERD….look at the influence….it’s clear he has emulated his style.(that’s just one example)

  • Rish Bish

    Haters every one of you. I don’t expect anything less.

    He has been doing design work for the likes of Nigo, Nike, Vans just to name a few. Don’t forget about the Toy game. He has caught and had my attention for the past 4 years. Who’s to say he doesn’t have what it takes to have staying power in the art community?

  • Rish Bish

    oh and 2B you should prolly google something to see if there is actually anything there to be googled prior to making a post.

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Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin Miami “Saturated” by KAWS