KAWS - CHUM, 2016
Chum is a perfect embodiment of the visual vocabulary of KAWS. Inspired by the Michelin man, this work demonstrates the artist’s ability to appropriate emblematic fictitious characters of pop culture and transform them into unique creations. KAWS adds his artistic trademark, making the work instantly recognizable: a cartoon-style skull reminiscent of pirate flags, with cross-bones as ears and its now characteristic crossed-out eyes. This results in a hybrid figure, both disturbing and reassuring.
KAWS developed his iconography very early on. Like many of his contemporaries, he first started exploring artistically on the street where he spray-painted billboards, walls and trains, grew to be one of New York’s most prolific graffiti street artists in the late 90’s. During a night spent tagging in the streets of Brooklyn, he met Barry Mc Gee who gave him a key that opened all the glass panels protecting the posters in bus shelters and phone booths. From then on, his intervention became more direct, surreptitiously inserting his characters within original advertisements and disfiguring consumerist images offered to the New York public in the process. His interventions were so skilful that it was often difficult to tell the artist’s work apart from the original.
Drawn from popular cartoons and popular imagery, KAWS’ characters seem to give him unique and powerful means of communication: ‘[I] found it weird how infused a cartoon could become in people’s lives; the impact it could have, compared to regular politics’ (Brian Donnelly in Graffiti Artist Turned Gallery Artist Turned Art Toy Maker, KAWS, February 2007). In the manner of Jeff Koons and Takashi Murakami, he blurs the boundaries between fine art, illustration and advertising, in line with the work of the master of Pop Art, Andy Warhol. Indeed he was the one who paved the way when he transfigured and elevated popular icons into a nobler art form. Like him, KAWS seems to be aware of his own complicity with popular culture and tries to interact with it as much as possible, both in big galleries in New York and Paris, and on Nike or Uniqlo t-shirts. Rather than a general commentary on popular culture, media and commercial production, KAWS’ work is more personal and introspective.
Thus, by reworking such immediately identifiable characters as Mickey Mouse, the Simpsons, or the Michelin Man, through paintings with thick outlines, emphasizing line and colour, monumental sculptures or large-scale toys, KAWS cuts across the borders of class, gender and culture with a universal language. His characters have friendly names - Companion, Complice or Chum - and express a range of human emotions, offering an ironic and curious outlook upon the dreams and fantasies conveyed by the imagery of popular culture.
Although a certain anxiety emanates from this work, our Chum, inspired by the Michelin Man, a reassuring and comfortable figure, seems to be running towards us to protect us from the vagaries of life. Following in the footsteps of KAWS, we can reinterpret the Michelin slogan “The right tire changes everything” into “The right Chum changes everything”!
« I always feel like there’s a story with images and with the characters. The best ones inspire new interpretations (…) Icons like Mickey, the Simpsons, the Michelin Man, and SpongeBob exist in a universal way that you forget their origin or even their narrative, and you just recognize them from the slightest glimpse of their image or sound.» Kaws
KAWS - CHUM, 2016. Acrylic on canvas mounted on panel. 60 x 49 IN. Est. 200000 / 300000 €
Contemporary Art sale, December 7, 2017, 7pm - Lot 27