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The Kaws: Holiday exhibition opened to much fanfare to the media on 13 November, only to be slapped with a court order regarding breach of intellectual property rights the very same day. After a gruelling couple of days and tussles at court, the exhibition was finally given an all-clear to “open the gate".
Two days before the kerfuffle, Yahoo Life SEA chatted with Brian Donnelly (aka Kaws), the creative brains behind Companion, the 42-metre-long inflatable now lying at The Float @ Marina Bay. The soft-spoken artist comes across as a quietly confident art veteran straddling the contemporary and fine art worlds with ease. He is also open to opportunities and gives us the impression that he has mastered the art of tuning out irrelevant noises.
Based on Yahoo Life’s first impressions of Kaws and his career trajectory, we have come up with a success playbook in the hope of inspiring future artists, as well as you and me. And for those of you who are keen to get a piece of Kaws, scroll all the way down to check out its merchandise. We say, grab them before they are gone!
Tip No. 1: Ignore the naysayers
As a teenager toeing the art world, Brian had teachers who advised him to stop graffiti as “there’s no money in it”. He chose to ignore his teacher – thankfully. And see what resulted? Street art proved to be a learning ground for the budding artist, which provided him with “…a better understanding of the imagery around me [him] and how they operate.”
Tip No. 2: Soldier on despite doubts
On the crucial trait of being an artist, Brian shares, “I think you need to have your own drive. If not, it’s not going to work. If you are an artist, you will know it and you will exhaust all avenues to achieve your dreams. So be honest with yourself.”
You may think that an art veteran like Brian, with countless solo exhibitions in international museums under his belt, plus a broad fan base that include high-profile fans like Justin Bieber, Pharrell Williams, and JJ Lin, would be above self-doubt. On the contrary, the artist was honest to this reporter and claims that he is not above second-guessing.
“[I doubt myself] everyday! I can’t imagine artists doing their thing and thinking to themselves that ‘this is great’. I just feel like you put your art out into the world and people have their opinions. I just tell myself that I can’t control that. I don’t spend time harping on it.”
“As you get more confident in who you are, you understand what you can control or can’t.”
Tip No. 3: Show up
On being a prolific artist who has worked with casual wear brand Uniqlo, designed for skateboard decks, collaborated with luxury house Dior, on top of working on sculptures and more, we ask how he managed to work around the coronavirus situation. He reveals,
“Like anyone else, there’s no real playbook to go by. You just go day by day. Throughout different points [during the pandemic], you build into your life what is safe.”
He adds, “I love doing what I’m doing. It doesn’t feel like work. I keep myself moving on. You just get up and show up. You do things and there are moments I feel like I am not doing enough and other times I don’t feel like doing it. And they are both okay. As an artist it is important to just show up and be consistent. I don’t take things for granted.”
Tip No. 4: Keep your integrity intact
As evidenced in his collaboration with Reese’s Puffs and the Kaws: Holiday exhibition, Brian is living proof of making his art accessible to the masses.
“As an artist I enjoy the communication with the local audiences. Many talk about inclusion and diversity but no one is doing it. I want to think of all areas I have not occupied and to fit into all these aspects. Hopefully something catches on and people are inspired and can find the time to do what they wish to do. Good energy can lead people into new directions.”
He continues, “I just approach things based on my integrity. I need to be interested in something if not, I won’t do it. I feel like it’s a little space I can occupy. I get really excited about things sometimes. I just need to be excited for myself. Institutions may not understand why I do certain art neither does my wife. But as long as I see it as something exciting [for me to pursue], they don’t need to understand. My art are communication tools to a certain type of person.”
Tip No. 5: Throw yourself into the fire and explore
Before the Singapore leg, Companion ventured across the Seokchon Lake in Seoul, Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall in Taipei, Victoria Harbour in Hong Kong, Mount Fuji in Japan, Doha Fire Station, transformed into a hot-air balloon in the United Kingdom and even made it into space for its 20th anniversary.
On his next steps, he sheds light on how his brain is constantly exploring and challenging himself to chart the unexplored territories, “I like to throw myself into the fire and see what happens. For the new project coming up next year, I started thinking of the combination of working with architecture. What if something becomes functional like a library? What if the materials change?”
Similar to how he threw himself into AR when he knew very little about it, “Augmented reality work allows me to do a lot of work I could only imagine doing previously. At first, I was hesitant, I didn’t want to do that as it felt gimmicky. The quality that I saw coming from the first work seems consistent with what I’m doing. And so, it is now an ongoing thing.”
Tip No. 6: Don’t take yourself too seriously
As evidenced by Brian’s Instagram account that has amassed a whopping 3.5 million followers, he loves having fun. Regarding the recent court order, he even shared a cat video addressed to the perpetrator who brought his exhibition to a standstill for a couple of days. And of course, the otters that paid a visit to Companion during the temporary closure of the exhibition.
“I try to keep [myself] pretty open. If you see my IG, it is not serious in anyway.”
Indeed. Life's hard, so don't take yourself too seriously.
Tip No. 7: Practise gratitude and share
When queried on why he does what he does, “I’m happy to create works that people can invite people to come to. Having it outdoors such as a project like the Kaws: Holiday, allows many people to come and partake in the arts experience.”
“Let’s open the gate!”
Date: From now till 21 Nov 2021
Venue: The Float @ Marina Bay
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