Who Are KAWS’s Most Famous Characters? We Explain

A number of KAWS most adored characters—from Chum to BFF–can be found in this month's Contemporary Editions sale.

KAWS, detail of Urge (complete portfolio of 10 works) (2020). Est. $25,000–$35,000.

The style and work of American artist and designer Brian Donnelly, best known as KAWS, is today immediately and internationally recognizable. Although part of this recognizability can be attributed to elements such as the highly stylized, street-art informed quality of his work, or the extensive use of vinyl in his sculptures and figurines, it is arguably KAWS’s recurring cast of characters that have solidified his practice within the contemporary vernacular—a number of which can be seen in the Contemporary Editions sale at Artnet Auctions.

Three outlines of the character snoopy with multicolor graphics overlaid.

KAWS, NO ONE’S HOME, STAY STEADY, THE THINGS THAT COMFORT(complete set of three works) (2015). Featured in Artnet Auctions Contemporary Editions January 2023.

The visual language KAWS has developed in his practice is centered on figures that are to varying degrees based on commercial imagery or persona. Some works directly appropriate this imagery, such as depictions of Peanuts star Snoopy or cultural icon SpongeBob SquarePants, while others have arguably been completely subsumed into the KAWS universe.

KAWS bff figure in blue sitting down on a plinth.

KAWS, Seeing (blue) (2018). Est. $15,000–$20,000.

Companion is considered the artist’s most famous character, which is based on the cartoon figure of Mickey Mouse, donning his iconic two-button trousers, white gloves, and quaint boots. Unlike its antecedent, however, Companion features KAWS’s signature “X” eyes and cross-bone and skull head. Similar stylistic interventions appear in his BFF figure as well, which is based on the Sesame Street character Elmo—though frequently portrayed as wooly and blue, like in Seeing (blue) (2018), one could be forgiven for being reminded instead of Elmo’s fellow castmate Grover.

KAWS Chum figure in lime green with four Chum hands and arms in various colors reaching from outside the frame over it.

KAWS, detail of Urge (complete portfolio of 10 works) (2020). Est. $25,000–$35,000.

One of KAWS’s most beloved characters though is certainly Chum, named such as the noun for a close friend or pal. Based off the curvy form of the Bibendum, known more popularly today as the Michelin Man, a logo mascot created in the late 19th century for the Michelin tire company. Maintaining the body form based on stacked tires, Chums first sprang into existence from the artist’s imagination more than two decades ago in 2002, first as street art, making appearances on brand advertisements.

Ten prints of KAWS Chum figure with four Chum hands and arms all in various colors reaching from outside the frame over it.

KAWS, Urge (complete portfolio of 10 works) (2020). Est. $25,000–$35,000.

Since then, Chum has been included by the artist in a wide variety of mediums, including in sculptures, figurines, merch, and prints, as can be seen in works like Urge (2020), also included in the present sale, which is comprised of 10 works in various colorways depicting a central Chum figure and four Chum hands reaching across the frame.

At its heart, Chum reflects a consideration not only of friendship in general, but human connection specifically within the context of contemporary society. Within the compositions of Urge, the hands both reach out but also obscure the face, creating at times a wholesome image of connection and others conveying a rather ominous, claustrophobic quality—together speaking to the multifaceted and dynamic range of KAWS’s work and deployment of his now-famous character troupe.

Explore these works and limited-edition pieces by Damien Hirst, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and more in the Artnet Auctions sale Contemporary Editions, live for bidding through June 25.

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