New Jersey–born artist Brian Donnelly, also known as KAWS, got his start as a street artist in the 1990s, and within the next decade, he went on to become a global sensation in the contemporary art world. Drawing his references from pop culture, KAWS is recognized for the cartoon-like imagery he deploys.
In the 1980s, Donnelly studied illustration at the School of Visual Arts in New York, later working as a cartoon animator for Disney. By the 1990s, he began experimenting with graffiti, painting over public commercial ads phone booths and bus stops in New York. Today, the artist is perhaps most known by his Companion character, which resembles a deformed and feature-less Mickey Mouse; he first conceptualized it during a collaboration with Japanese streetwear brand Bounty Hunter in 1999.
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KAWS has infiltrated the world of luxury collectibles as well, manufacturing and selling his “Companion” sculptures in limited-edition releases undertaken in collaboration with fashion brands like Nike and Dior Homme. The toy “Companions” have helped to bridge the boundaries between street art, fine art, and fashion. He’s also done large-scale sculptures, including a 121-foot-long inflatable one for Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbor in 2019.
In recent years, KAWS’s ascent has earned him a widespread following—even if critics have often largely dismissed his art. Among those who have helped boost KAWS’s reputation are his collectors, who have helped the artist notch major records at auction. On the occasion of a Brooklyn Museum KAWS retrospective now on view, below is a look at the artist’s top sales at auction.