KAWS (American, born 1974) is a well-known designer of toys and limited edition clothing. He was born Brian Donnelly in Jersey City, NJ. KAWS grew up in New Jersey and became interested in graffiti in elementary school, where he spent a lot of time copying graffiti images on paper. His first influences were neighborhood kids who painted graffiti images on walls in his community. As he grew older, his influences came from traditional life painters, such as Gerhard Richter (German, b. 1932), Klaus Oldenberg (Swedish, b. 1929), and Chuck Close (American, b. 1940).
KAWS' career began as a graffiti artist in New York, NY, in the early 1990s. His paintings could be seen on billboards, bus stops, and in phone booths. He earned his BFA from the School of Visual Arts in New York. Immediately after graduating in 1996, KAWS began working as a freelance artist for Disney, designing animated backgrounds. Among his best-known works are his contributions to 101 Dalmations, Daria and Doug. Once KAWS gained popularity, his graffiti ads became highly sought after. He traveled extensively and worked in Paris, London, Germany and Japan. In 1998, he received the Pernod Liquid Art Award, which provides grants to new artists.
In the late 1990s, KAWS began designing and producing limited edition toys. These gained international popularity, especially in Japan. He also began collaborating on various toys, including with Nigo (Japanese, b. 1970) for A Bathing Ape. Other popular collaborative works by KAWS include his redesign of Mickey Mouse, the Michelin Man and SpongeBob SquarePants. Solo exhibitions of the artist's work have been held at the Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art in Ridgefield, CT, the Harris Museum in Preston, UK, Parco Gallery in Tokyo, Japan, and City Gallery Chastain in Atlanta, GA. His solo exhibition OriginalFake at Bape Gallery in Tokyo, Japan, featured a sculpture titled Wonderful World that sold for $400,000. KAWS' traveling exhibition Beautiful Losers toured Europe and the United States and was also shown at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, GA. The artist currently lives and works in Brooklyn, NY.