Extended Essay
Visual Arts
How has pop culture influenced in developing the approaches towards the styles of Brian Donnelly’s art
Candidate Name: Maharaj Tongbram
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School Name: Lancers International School
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Initiated by artist like Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, James Rosenquist and Claes
Oldenburg; pop art rose a movement to represent poplar imagery from a worldwide
phenomenon. Begun as a revolutionary style of art against Abstract Expressionism
challenging art’s authenticity of meaning and expressions aside and instead creating a
connection with the people using our culture that exist all around us.
Brian Donnelly professionally known as “KAWS” is one of 21st generations great
influencer though his style of pop art. Started as a graffiti artist, He has gained his
recognition through subvertising, sculptures, Acrylic paintings on canvas and screen
prints along with commercial collaborations mainly with limited toys, skateboards,
Chlothings and many other products. My admiration for this artist roots over how his
style never changes although continues a variety of connections namely the album art
cover of singer Kanye West’s album 808′ Heartbreak, The Kaws Air Jordan 4’s
collaboration, Collaboration with Uniqlo, the 2013 MTV awards trophy was a Kaws
“companion” sculpture and more are only a few of his projects. He appears to be the
closest visual representation of our culture through art therefore the reason why i
chose to research on his influences from our culture and discover its origin. His works
are familiar to many renown cartoon characters Including Mickey Mouse, The Simpsons,
Astro boy, SpongeBob, Snoopy and more, which are adored by many people of the
modern era; this includes not only American but international phenomenons. However
his prints and canvas works usually are very colourful and abstract. I sought to find
through this research the manner in which how these pop culture stars’ cultural aspects
influence Brian Donnelly and impacted his artworks. On another hand growing up as a
teenager in the 21st generation and a student of arts and passionate in music, Brian
Donnelly’s works are seen present all across many platforms of crafts. A generation
filled with pop stars and outbursts of street fashion and styles greatly credible for his
KAWS’s works which emit cultural significance. Therefore generated this identity of him
as the present culture and possibly moulding the art of the future.
Table of Contents
In The Woods (Triptych), 2002″
“Untitled, 2008”
How has pop culture influenced in developing the approaches towards the styles of Brian Donnelly’s art.
Almost everyday i get to witness the presence of our pop culture in everything we do
starting with the shows in our T.V, the posters in the street, as advertisements in
products, its famous dialogues spreading like a flu and the existence of their character
that has embodied us since childhood. There is no escape for many from the media that
surrounds us. But unlike any of the other references of the pop culture, art has also
found its way of representing our culture. I remember when i saw Brian Donnelly’s art
for the first time. It was on Instagram, a social media platform where most of todays
artists are recognised on its genre. It was a sculpture called Companion, one of Brian
Donnelly’s famous ones which still is admired today. The sculpture was strange to many
yet had a connection that many of all ages could relate. Thats when i had a close look
at the details of “Companion”, It had a skull head with crossed eyes and bones which
crossed as ears. This is when i also spotted that, those were the only unique features as
the hands had gloves and its pants had big buttons and boot on its feet which looks
exactly like the famously well known cartoon “Mickey Mouse” from Disney. This
recognisable aesthetic left me in awe thinking as an art student that Brian Donnelly had
successfully grabbed all our attention through this creation which felt like something
we have never seen but have always known. Left inspired and innovated with its
simplicity and complication in one figure. Ever since i’ve developed a deep curiosity in
Brian Donnelly’s work and wanted to gain an understanding of his works as an artist to
account for his passion with our culture. Therefore i wanted to uncover what inspired
him to reflect his artistic perspectives through such famous images. How has pop
culture influenced in developing the approaches towards the styles of Brian Donnelly’s
Brian Donnelly is born in 1974, New Jersey.While living in Jersey City, KAWS began his
career as a graffiti artist painting on the wall of buildings and trains and isolated places and
was recognised for having one of the best in the streets, he found graffiti as a way to
communicate with others and as an escape in his own ways. In his teenage years he
mostly drew his initial which was inspired since he was a high school kid because he found
the letters in the word “KAWS” perfect for each other sooner or later he began to work on
subverting the images on bus shelters, phone booth advertisements, walls and
billboards. Advertisements of famous brands with famous people in it like Calvin Klein’s
poster was removed covertly and drawn over the with Kaws’s crossed eyed creatures. This
idea where he took ads and customised came out unique to the public’s eye and seduced
people’s attention to wonder who was behind it. It was proactive and somehow was
merging the barriers between fashion and art. Soon after his notoriety and popularity
reached heights never before expected and these ads became increasingly sought after
by the public. The presence of media and culture has been present in the rise of his works
as an assist to acquiring his fame and recognition. Although notable figurative imagery
were not present yet his work reclined along with commercial images which was noticed
by the public. He then graduated from the School of Visual Arts in New York with a
Bachelor of Arts in illustration in 1996.
After he graduated he worked for Jumbo pictures as a freelance animator painting
backgrounds for animated series like the 101 Dalmatians, Daria and Doug. Although he
has the skills to make traditional art forms, he desired to animate and these animations
also gained him popularity. This economic viability offered him the opportunity to
explore to greater possibilities with his creativity. He traveled extensively to work in
Paris, London, Germany, and Japan. He then also received the Pernod Liquid Art Award
which exposed him to other artists and grants connections. Now In Japan he was friends
with Hikaru Igwanaga who is the founder of bounty hunter designs who asked him if he
wanted to make a toy. In an interview with Complex Brian described that “if i had to do
a toy to has to be a derivative of something recognisable.”, So he chose Mickey mouse
with a slight twit of his own imaginations. This kind of art form is famously visible in
the works of Andy Warhol for example his use of Marilyn Monroe and the Campbell’s
cans. This links back to my research question that lead to my curiosity of his
inspirations. His choices to animate, using the existence of recognisable animations
early in his career. KAWS began to design and produce limited-edition toys. These
gained international popularity, especially in Japan. They were known as “companion”
and everyone wanted to have one.
Brian Donnelly’s popular redesign of Mickey mouse went viral including some other
character he was influenced by and redesigned. From them some well known few are
The Michelin Man and SpongeBob Square pants. This shows a clear path to what he
wants to connect his work with. These characters he replaced with the crossed eyed
skull are revived when he makes the addition. Almost as a depiction that describes the
fallibility that exist with ourselves. A message he wants to convey though these
animated cartoons. Despite this addition he’s use of such figures shows his connection
as an artist with the pop culture identities.
In a a documentary by Bloomberg Brian also said KAWS has embraced the commercialist
spirit of Claes Oldenburg and Takashi Murakami and Andy Warhol. Brian’s sculptures
today are enormous some standing 30 feet up above ground. These sculptures are of his
famous toy Companion and people of all across the world come to visit and take
pictures with it. Similarly Claes Oldenburg was somebody who made enormous
sculptures of everyday household items and was well known. Kaws also interprets many
colours in his works like the world of Takashi Murakami. And the most recognisable
similarity is of Andy Warhol because he was also an artist who utilised commercial
images in his work and was a leading figure in the visual art movement known as pop
art. Brian Donnelly’s inspiration with artist of older times which he simulates does find
a connection in his works today. Wether it is the execution of art or the concept he
derives from, it all plays a part in inspiring him to be the artist he is today.
Incorporation of popular culture into their works of art is notable amongst pop artists.
The use of cartoons with vibrant colours are seen widely in Brian Donnelly’s works and
other pop artists. Although the individual styles vary widely, all of the artists maintain
a commonality in their choice of popular culture imagery as their fundamental subject.
The expressive resources of pop art are similar to those of the mass media, such as
film, advertising, television and comic sketches. Now the style of this form is found in
some of Brian Donnelly’s famous works “Kaws – No one`s home (Snoopy), 2015”, which
brings back the cartoon character “snoopy” from the comic “Snoopy”, “Untitled, 2008”
reinvents the Smurfs cartoons. KAWS Smurfs popularly known as Kurfs were also the
major series in the artist’s work. “Fury, 2008” which is of the famous character
spongeBob with crossed pupils capturing the scene of anger and rage coming from the
whimsical yellowish character. and these are only few of his most successful works.
Kaws also uses the concept of making prints of his paintings which past generations
Artists like Andy Warhol have adopted.
Brian’s works are usually complimented as works of perfection, this as in the way he
uses lines and shaped and colours that shades and contrasts pleasantly to the viewers.
The recognisable figure being the subject of his canvas works he allows the audience to
view his works by travelling across the canvas. Sometimes his canvas are made in the
shape of come of the characters and the painting within the shape fill in a complex
abstract of his imaginations. Needless to say the influence of these characters in all his
works are distinctively present.
I wanted to further understand the connection of Brian’s works connection to pop
culture by studying some of his works individually.
a. “In The Woods (Triptych), 2002”
In The Woods is a three-part canvas of 147.6 cm x 275.3 cm, which shows a female Kaws
companion sitting on a grass accompanied by animals. The final picture is composed in
black, white and blue, which for the subject is eerie to view with it’s skull head and
crossed eyes. This emotions can be enhanced for any viewer as they realise that the
painting is of the Disney princess “Snow White” from the tale where she was in the
The representation of Kaws’s “In The Woods (Triptych), 2002” is definitely inspired by
the Disney tale of Snow White. We can see that the female subject in the middle is
noticeably similar and so is the animals that surrounds her. However the composition is
different the original image is much more saturated than Kaws’s version. Kaws’s
signature addition to his works, the skull head with cross eyes makes the subject seem
as it shows a dreadful fate of the protagonist. In addition the use of lines and colour
contrast makes it almost impossible to uncover at first glance. The style of Brian’s pop
look on the image and the idea of to being a triptych turns it strangely acceptable and
satisfying as it is unseen in its perspective ever before. Now, the widely adored Disney
princess is no less welcomed in the world of Brian.
b. “Untitled, 2008”
Kurfs is a whole series of works by Brian Donnelly, a popular collection of works where
we can find the popular cartoon character Smurfs. Specifically “Untitled, 2008” another
famous and sold is a painting of a Smurf which hangs with a gesture of question to his
position but instead of the original looks of Smurfs it has Brian’s signature addition of
the skull and bones with crossed eyes. Which leads to a question by now to myself that
“What does that signify ?” fallibility, the word that helps me get a better
understanding of this picture. As humans we are aware that all of us are prone to
fig: “Untitled, 2008”
making mistakes and if we see from Brian’s point of view he appears to show us that
even cartoons which are brought to life by our imaginations share the same aspect in its
existence. As well as when it comes to pop culture many of these characters seem to
live forever in our minds and as we see them we bring them to life however it’s only a
subconscious thought that their immortality is present. They disappear as soon as a new
cartoon takes over the audience. Now with Kaws’s works he brings them back to the
audience however the skull the and bones depict death. A possible connection between
how the pop culture industry functions represented through art.
c. “Landscapes”
Prominence is one of Brian’s key to his successful works. Prominence of personality we
have witnessed before. What this does is it attracts people by allowing them to
reminisce on the image with their memory, which i believe is very effective in Brian’s
works. In America “The Simpsons” was one the most trending cartoon series. The
landscape is a work by Brian that is divided into four pieces. These pieces have what it
seems as a error of crop to the Simpsons portraits. The word Landscape defines as “all
the visible features of an area of land, often considered in terms of their aesthetic
appeal.” Kaws or Brian has compared the forehead’s of the Simpson family to
landscape to which most react with a strange tone, this is because we aren’t use to
seeing them in such presentation. Now again we know that these are notable images of
fig: “Landscapes”
popular characters and Kaws has used them to interpret something unrelated off it. The
point is Brian’s use of Prominent characters in his work. This not only comes from the
influence it has made to the artist but as a beneficial aspect to his works because the
majority can find a balanced connection with each other.
Brian’s works are universally understood and to surpass language and cultural barriers.
People from all across the world like the mostly American Pop cultured works of Brian.
This dates back to his child hood days where he had described that he started as a
graffiti artist in the streets of NY and explored different places skating with his
friends. He also said that his graffiti works helped him get attention from across the
world. He was appreciated for his works in NY and he would connect with people from
Germany and Tokyo and more though the likings of his graffiti. The culture speaks a
complete and invariable language to which many can relate to. This idea stayed
through his growth in art. Today all of his artworks connect with people of all ages,
race and sex. A platform over where the influence of pop culture within all of us has
enabled us to understand Brian’s works. Language plays a huge role, however an
unspoken language of mutual relationship with a twist of Brian’s motifs.
Brian has contributed to the community’s lifestyle in multiple ways. Even in these
achievements we find how the influence of our pop culture exist. To affirm this i dug
deep into some of his most famous contributions and seek the relation to our culture.
In New York, the worlds largest parade happens each year on Thanks giving day. A
popular tradition where there are ballon floats, professional bands and live animals
borrowed from the Central Zoo. This event is well known for its entertainment where
huge balloons of popular cartoon characters are inflated and joins the parade. Kids of
families and adults love this event because everybody knows what they witness on this
day. Kaws or Brian received the opportunity to have his well known fictional character
“companion” as one of the balloons in Macy’s parade 2012.
Viewers was a little misunderstood about this day as they wondered if it was a dead
Mickey Mouse. This links back to how the community relates it with a prominent figure.
However for Brian this was a well documented and successful contribution to the
culture as an artist. Which to my curiosity adds because not only his work is influenced
by pop culture but his works is also buying itself a place in the pop culture. Popular
culture is constantly fluctuating. It is something that exists in the shared discourse of
contemporary globalised culture, seemingly lingering outside of the reach of minds that
are constantly chasing its meaning, yet almost primordially already deeply influenced
by it. Brian has gained the mass accessibility and appeal of the people like he must
have been of the characters he uses in his artworks. This is termed as the discourse
analysis the study of the socially determined utilisation of language in any medium and
its effects on the way it shapes and instructs the world around us. A great contribution
and addition to his career’s success.
Brian Donnelley is also a designer best known for his collaboration with the Jordan
brand. His style is instantly recognisable, usually by his trademark “XX” logo, which he
has lent to collaborations with some of the world’s largest brands (BAPE, Supreme,
Nike, Levi’s, Porter and Vans to name a few) . Stepping aside form the traditional art’s
relation to culture. Brian also delivers a great wave of change in the apparel industry,
most notably his KAWS Air Jordan IV’s.
Sneakers have long been loved as a staple of casual fashion, transcending gender, age,
and socioeconomic categories to become the footwear of choice for millions across the
globe. Today sneakers is serious business, just like technology it is captured as soon as it
is purchasable. Its a big part of the culture,We were influenced by streetwear, music
and hip-hop movies, and started studying the culture and educating ourselves on the
major sneaker brands. Another great platform for an artist like Brian Donnelley, and
out of his many collaborations with Nike his release of the Jordans set a milestone to
his works. People love it and in the 2000’s when the culture is at its peak this idea is
extraordinary as an artist. A gate way to more art merging the boundaries of apparel
and art.
Pop culture includes all phenomena within the mainstream of a given culture. Sneakers
is a pop culture and and Brian presented a design collaboration with the Jordan brand.
This to my research of the influence of pop culture fits. The joint effort shows the
appreciation both artistic genre has, plus the idea of Brian creating this work links to
how he includes as a enthusiast of the sneaker culture.
Music is surely made a great impact as part of the culture all around the world, culture
affects music ; it moulds and shapes into the kind of genre we listen to everyday. Hip
hop recently charted as the number one music genre that people prefer and was not
always considered so. Brian was the artist behind one of Kanye most recognisable music
album art, the ” 808s & heartbreak ”
Brian’s is now also part of the pop culture of music industry. The recognisable crossed
gloves in the album art is Brian’s motif. A signature of the artist. The artwork isn’t such
a surprise when you consider that Kanye vocally supported KAWS on his now-defunct
KanyeUniverseCity blog. Andy Warhol was one of the first artist to realise the intrinsic
connection between the celebrity culture and pop culture. Only those celebrities who
become extremely popular and symbolic of something become known as pop
icons. Kanye is an icon, a musical artist with millions of fans that consume his material
and Brian is the inspiration behind his album cover. He is much involved in this
movement and as a contribution to the culture. Converging the world of animation, art
and hip-hop. KAWS himself has a long history of bridging the pop culture medium
incorporating a past of graffiti billboards, art school and creature design, today he is
commissioned to be the artist designing posters. This work being KAWS’s another career
attainment it again proves my question as positive to how the culture is influencing his
Last but not the least discussing pop culture lets not leave behind the biggest share of
it, the film industry. Actors, Actresses and roles of people whom we have attached with
though movies. To experience many types of films, explore film culture, and gaining a
basic understanding of its message is very similar to art. Art and film shares this
experience with the audience in a unique manner and with great film, they are
rewarded with awards of many kinds. Brain was the designer of the 2013 MTV VMAs. He
was recruited to redesign the iconic moon man award. It was the first time the
Moonman had seen a rework in 30 years, and true to form, KAWS blessed it with a
gunmetal finish and the iconic skull-and-crossbones motif, as well as the gloves from his
Companion character.
For Brian as a guy who’s reinterpreted everything from Mickey Mouse to the Michelin
Man, not to mention worked with top brands like Nike and Marc Jacobs, taking on the
Moonman was an opportunity he couldn’t pass. With its shiny metal finish the film
industry would instantly recognise this design. The design is immediately KAWS and
immediately Moonman as well and in the world of art this involvement connects the
two separate genres of pop cultures as one. Another involvement in the creation an
iconic piece for the biggest entertainment industry. Brian or Kaws as an artist and now
become the face of modern art and has accomplished yet another work on the act of
pop culture.
How has pop culture influenced in developing the approaches towards the styles of
Brian Donnelly’s art?
Although Brian Donnelley’s works attract many viewers attention with credits to the
recognisable figures he manipulates, the presence of pop culture in his works is
prominent in almost all his creations. Pop culture appears to have influence Brian in
many ways not only through cartoons but also the apparel, music, toy and the film
industry. All these different genres are today slowly breaking its barriers and artists
like Kaws are allowing us to view it with the same perspective.
An icon is not a passive symbol, but one which in itself is deemed to be a of
transformative power. From their clothing styles to speech mannerisms or beliefs, pop
icons influence society broadly, as well as our views. They have a certain mixture of sign
systems which we can participate as fans. Brian Donnelley participate a like all of us
however unique as an artist. Although i’ve researched the influence on his art works, Brian
turn out to be an pop icon himself. 

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