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New York City to West Yorkshire: KAWS at Yorkshire Sculpture Park

28/07/2016 17:08

Contemporary pop artist Brian Donnelly – commonly known as KAWS – touched down in the UK for his biggest exhibition to date. The venue? The spectacular grounds of the Yorkshire Sculpture Park.

Comprised of large, vibrant canvas paintings and towering sculptures depicting his signature cartoon characters, the KAWS exhibition ran from 6th Feb - 12th June 2016.

Image via Creative Review.

Like Disney characters from a dystopian future, the monolithic sculptures had to be constructed using cranes and teams of construction experts – check out this video from the Yorkshire Sculpture Park Instagram to see how it was done.

Who is KAWS?

KAWS found his way into the art through his love of graffiti; after graduating from high school in 1992, KAWS began his career in art as a skateboarder and graffiti artist, painting over the billboards and advertisements of New York City.  

His name had comparably humble beginnings, ‘KAWS’ is simply an arbitrary collection of letters that looked good together when scrawled on a wall with a spray paint can. In 1997, KAWS visited Japan, finding inspiration for the cartoon-like toys and sculptures that were to become his signature aesthetic. These 3D creations were supersized for his Yorkshire Sculpture Park exhibition, towering among the trees of the Yorkshire countryside.


Image via arrested motion.

KAWS’ exhibition also included his renowned canvas paintings. These works are created using foam sponges which are used to apply layer after layer of paint for a powerful, flat block of colour.

Colour is enormous part of KAWS’ creative process. Each piece is brought to life by the vibrant shades and complementary hues he combines within his work: “Colour is just something I enjoy working with, you can change something so much with colour… pieces gain their own personality depending on how you position colours together.”

The use of acrylic paint

Since his early days painting over billboards as a young man, KAWS has favoured acrylic paint. He applied the paint to appear to have no visible brush strokes, so his additions appear printed directly onto the surface – leaving spectators wondering if his characters were intended to be part of the original art.

He explained his reasoning behind using acrylic paint in an early interview: “When I got out of college, my first job was working in animation. I used to take some of the acrylic paint that they weren’t using home with me and use it to paint over ads, because it was the perfect material.”

Image via The Independent.

KAWS combines pop art sensibilities with the gritty, urban stylings of graffiti art you’d find on the walls of cosmopolitan cities around the globe. Aside from his solo work, he’s collaborated with streetwear heavyweights such as A Bathing Ape, Undercover, Kung Faux, Nike, Vans, and Comme des Garcons.

His unique style has been used to reimagine the The Simpsons, Mickey Mouse, the Michelin Man, the Smurfs, and even SpongeBob SquarePants.

Feeling inspired?

If all this has got you excited to go out and create something (we certainly felt the urge), then why not browse our craft materials and start to compose your own sculptures?

Or perhaps you favour KAWS’ other materials – acrylic paint and canvas. If you’ve been inspired to create something based on the brilliant KAWS exhibition – a sculpture, a painting or even a doodle on a notepad, tweet us at @ArtShopSkipton and we’ll feature your work on this post.


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