KAWS’s Dior-sponsored show opens at the Brooklyn Museum later this month, and will run through September 5. The New York Times Magazine profiles the artist ahead of the event for its latest issue. M.H. Miller does a nice job of encapsulating the story of Brian Donnelly’s unlikely assent from “tagger to in-demand designer to fine artist.” It’s a story rooted in the late ‘90s Downtown scene during the Zoo York Mixtape era, which is why a KAWS piece will always have a certain nostalgia for skaters with graying hair and salt-and-pepper beards.
His public works still take Companion as their subject and are now among his most ambitious — and because they are, unlike his graffiti works, legal, they are huge logistical undertakings. But in the ’90s, Companion was more of a clandestine presence, subliminally haunting major cities across the world. There he is, green and dripping out of the nostril of Charles de Gaulle, on a bus-shelter advertisement for the French magazine L’Express. And again, on the side of a phone booth, covering the face of the model in an ad for Maidenform bras that says “inner beauty only goes so far,” while an oblivious delivery man walks through the frame.
These photographs tend to be some of Donnelly’s more celebrated works, as they were sharp reflections of — and, perhaps, judgments on — a post-Cold War, pre-Sept. 11 consumer culture. They did not, however, lead to meaningful success in the art world. At the same time he was making these works, he was supporting himself as a full-time animator, painting backgrounds for shows like “Daria” and “Doug.” (Incidentally, Donnelly kind of looks like a grown-up Doug.) In the galleries of New York, being a street artist, an animator and a toymaker, “it was like I had three strikes against me,” he said. If he wasn’t showing his work illegally, it was hanging on the walls of Lower East Side dives like Max Fish or bOb Bar. His first toehold in a real art institution was in the New Museum’s gift shop, which stocked his toys.
Read the entire piece here.