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.
KAWS. Photograph by Terry Richardson. Image courtesy of ANP Quarterly and KAWSONE.
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.
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
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.
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.
Terry Richardson with KAWS sculptures, paintings and merchandise at KAWS’ studio in New York. Image courtesy of KAWSONE.
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:
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.
KAWS (on canvas), 2007. Image courtesy newphenomenon.wordpress.com
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[.]
For more information about this exhibition please visit: www.galerieperrotin.com