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Symbols are Everywhere

杨雅茹 Lann Yang 2017-06-30 14:26

Recently, “KAWS: WHERE THE END STARTS” held at the Yuz Museum in Shanghai officially opened to the public. It is the most important retrospective exhibition of KAWS anywhere in the world recently, featuring a large-scale exhibition of his paintings, sculptures, drawings, toys, and other works of art from over the last twenty years.

KAWS' works are well known for their iconic X-shaped eyes and bulbous skulls. Even if you don’t know the name, you’ve probably seen his work somewhere. Vivid print, clean lines, bright and eye-catching colours, his works naturally stand out. During his creation process, KAWS prefers to reshape those daily objects like celebrity posters and cartoon images, and therefore ride the spotlight through deconstruction, collage, and repetition. Those traits enable his works to cover topics as broad as contemporary art, street culture, and even the business world, while turning KAWS himself into one of the most influential artists in pop culture.



KAWS said the street culture impacted his creation most. Born and raised in Jersey City, the New York city over the bank of the river was his favorite spot in boyhood. At that time, graffiti experienced a surge in street cultures, having sprang from a direct expression of rebellion against authority among a group of marginalized subculture in the Bronx District of New York City in the 1960s. It come into prominence in society, politics, media and mainstream art in the 1970s and 1980s. As some academic artists joined in the scene, graffiti gradually extended from simple text tags to large-scale intricate murals images. Raised in such a blossoming cultural environment, the young KAWS would hit the streets on his skateboard with spray paints in hand, painting wall after wall, unaware of the surrounding cultural change.



Later, his study of illustration in the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan was when KAWS started his art creation full time. During the day, he conducted systematic academic creations to complete the course. At night, he took back in secret and reprocessed posters on billboards, and then returned them. Such reprocessing went even further after his graduation.

In 1997, KAWS started to make a name for himself in the art circles. When cooperating with Jun Takahashi, the founder and designer of Japanese clothing brand Undercover, on a street art project, it occurred to KAWS, as a new comer to Tokyo, that cartoons seemed to have broken across language barriers and cultural differences in Japan. Of course, Japan is a country where a highly developed animation industry thrives. This led KWAS to start the exploration and creation experiment of cartoon images. He reshaped those classic cartoon characters with his iconic X-shaped eyes and bulbous skulls, then came the works labeled with the KAWS brand. Since then, the creation of KAWS came even more smoothly - some fashion wear brands and him jointly launched toys of cartoon images and other derivatives, of which the creation were warmly welcomed among the new generation. In the business world, KAWS has opened up a broader artistic consumer market, thus eliminating the boundary between works of arts and the audience, where contemporary art comes closer.



At the opening ceremony of “KAWS: WHERE THE END STARTS” at the Yuz Museum, Shanghai, the curator of Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Andrea Carnes said, “the creation of KAWS is in a kind of artistic philosophical language, which aims to break the inequality between social class and the arts. The reprocessing based on cartoon images was recognized as works of art, rather than a mere toy.” For general consumers, works of KAWS bring along a kind of aesthetic feeling without a necessity of professional experience. However, a strong decorative taste and commercial entertainment have deprived the arts of its dialogue function. In this regard, KAWS is not particularly concerned, just as how the label “KAWS” came. Out of love, so comes a symbol, and the symbol can be everywhere. 

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