An illustration by American artist and designer KAWS, also known as Brian Donnelly, graced the cover of New York Magazine this week. The pen drawing, which makes use of the artist’s infamous cartoon character, takes “cancel culture” as its inspiration.
The magazine’s cover story, for which KAWS was commissioned, explores the reality of cancel culture among American high school students, “where calls for accountability for bad behavior can often spiral into bullying, false accusations, and permanent ostracization,” the publication wrote in an Instagram post.
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In the cover story, writer Elizabeth Weil delves into the experiences of a “canceled” youth and his classmates, after a list of “people to look out for” appeared on a high-school girls’-bathroom wall. In the article, she follows the ways in which demands for accountability for perpetrators of assault and harassment evolved over the course of the academic school year.
For the cover drawing, KAWS borrowed the same pose from his 2021 sculpture Separated, which shows his Mickey Mouse-like cartoon character sitting cross-legged with his head in his hands. In the drawing, the sullen figure sits on top of a skateboard.
“As the father of two young children, imagining what life might be like when they become teenagers, I understand the concern that comes with navigating the complexity of relationships and how that is layered with the realities of the pandemic and social media,” KAWS told New York.
KAWS has long been a controversial figure in the art world due to the widespread commercial success of his kitschy sculptures and paintings, which explore exhaustion and death as its primary motifs.
“KAWS is a more sophisticated businessperson than most artists. In a cultural high-wire act, he has managed to link fashion, corporate branding, and fine art to strengthen his work’s value in each discrete sphere,” William S. Smith wrote in a 2019 article for Art in America. “Whether this cycle of promotion and profit is ‘too’ commercial is a question of degree.”