Published: 23/04/2024

Who is KAWS? His famous toy figures arrive at Splint Invest

The artist is taking the art world by storm — his giant inflatables have graced a lake in Seoul and the Victoria Harbour in Hong Kong, and his paintings sell for eight-figure sums at auction.

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KAWS is not his real name. Brian Donnelly, born in 1974, pursued illustration at the School of Visual Arts in New York. Prior to gaining recognition as an artist, he contributed as a background painter to renowned animated series including Disney’s 101 Dalmatians, as well as cult classics like Daria and Doug.

From a young age. Donnelly became known for tagging buildings in New Jersey and Manhattan with 'KAWS'. He picked the name because he liked how it looked. But he didn't stop there. He developed his own style by adding cartoon characters to bus-shelter ads. Starting out in graffiti, KAWS found an audience beyond the art world. Unlike many artists, he didn't begin in a gallery. He understood the value of displaying his work on the streets and creating lots of pieces to gain followers. His growing fanbase caught the eye of collectors and critics.

Reflecting on his graffiti days, Donnelly said, "When I was doing graffiti, all I wanted was to be seen. I wanted this visual language to be out there in the world... Making paintings didn't mean anything to me if I wasn't connecting with people." KAWS has now managed to connect with a whole lot of people; he has 4.4 million Instagram followers. 

KAWS got his fame from his toys 

His toy figures are seen in our newly released KAWS Companion Chair.  In 1999 KAWS visited Japan after being approached by Bounty Hunter, the cult toy and streetwear brand. Following that, he went on to create his first toy, ‘COMPANION’. The toy was made in an edition of 500, and it sold out almost immediately. COMPANION became a recurring figure in KAWS’s work.


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The rise to fame and the surge in value

Although KAWS was successful in the 2000s, the 2019 Artnet Intelligence Report reports that in 2017 his average sale price almost doubled, from $42,272 to $82,063. In November 2018, five KAWS pieces sold for more than $1 million, and across the year his work realized over $33.8 million at auction. 

Just how much is too much? Here are what investors/collectors are willing to pay for KAWS works


Sotheby’s NIGOLDENEYE® Vol.1 

Hong Kong on 1 April 2019

Sale price: $14.7m

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As bidding went on, the painting eventually sold for almost 15 times its high estimate, smashing the previous auction record set for KAWS only a year before. The work is a parody of The Beatles’ 1967 Sgt. Pepper album cover but featuring KAWS’s signature Kimpsons characters – was formerly owned by Japanese fashion designer, DJ and entrepreneur NIGO®,  who styles his name with the registered trademark (as seen in the name of the auction), a long-time collector and collaborator of KAWS. 


Phillips 20th Century & Contemporary Art & Design Day 

Hong Kong  29 November 2021

Sale price: 100,000 EUR including fees


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Limited to an edition of 25, the present work is the brainchild of KAWS and Brazilian designers Humberto and Fernando Campana – pioneers in the global design world who are also known as the Campana brothers. Known for their pairing of traditional craftsmanship with unconventional materials and methods, Estudio Campana works can be found in over 40 public collections, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris.

One of the 25 editions is now part of the Splint Invest art collection. Are you ready to invest?

 Splints are now available here. 

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