On the event of the Kaws + IKEPOD launch event at colette, we had the chance to chat with the legendary artist on matters of his past, present and future. In addition to colette, the IKEPOD watches are now available at Gurus Shop in Hong Kong (A2-A3 G/F 67 Sing Woo Road Happy Valley).
Let’s start with your backstory – Where did the name KAWS come from?
The name KAWS came from graffiti, simply from letters I like, but you know eventually, I’m realizing that I like it because you can’t attach anything to it. I mean, just the word KAWS didn’t exist in the vocabulary. It became a good way to use that to make people look at the work.
At what point did you realize this was going to be more than just tagging walls and hitting billboards?
It wasn’t important to me when I was a young graffiti artist to think about a bigger picture. I was just making work… and it led me to many opportunities. Step by step it grew. But at that time I would never have thought of my life like that: “I’m gonna do this and this and this…” I don’t think you can even plan successfully to do something like that. So I just enjoyed it for what it was. And I just enjoy this for what it is.
See some visuals from the colette launch event in the video below:
Read the full interview after the click.
How did you get connected to Japan and start making toys (and clothing)?
I think I met Nigo on my second trip; I started going to Japan in the mid-90’s. My first trip, I met the guy from Hectic and he introduced me to a lot of people and I started working with them. My first show was in Tokyo in 2001, I designed skateboards for Supreme. Then Nigo talked about my work and it started to grow and grow. And also, before that, Takahashi met me, and I did a whole season with him. I really learned about clothing production with those guys.
Do you consider your toys and sculptures to be the same thing or is there a difference?
Honestly, there’s different considerations whether you’re doing something large, or something as massive but fundamentally, it’s always the same, it starts with drawing and I think of it as an object, I think of it as… I really don’t consider the scale.
Would you consider the IKEPOD watch a piece of art?
It’s the same thing that when I think about my painting or about my sculpture: I don’t think people need to characterize as such a thing; it’s just something, you live with it and you enjoy. I think it’s great that it’s something that’s with you on such an intimate level. It’s quite different than a painting or a sculpture: you spend some time with it but it’s not like you fall asleep with it or whatever. For me it’s perfect.
Tell us more about the details that went into the IKEPOD project..
I would say it kinda happened organically; I was here [in Paris] for my exhibition in November 2010. We started talking with Alex and the next day at my hotel, we were looking at watches. I was familiar with the company, so when our idea became a possibility, I was on board.
It’s very appropriate, we’re like 2 years later almost and colette’s hosting the launch. They have always been a huge support for me. colette has played this role for me since the late 90’s: my first exhibition was in 99 and since then we’ve been continuing on different levels together.
At this point you’ve gotten the attention of the art world.. how does it feel to be one of more publicly known faces associated with graf culture?
I hope that when people look at the painting I’m doing now, they’re not saying “oh look at this street art, look at this graffiti art.” For me, I feel that the stuff I’ve been doing in the street like the graffiti – not the posters, even before – is a done thing. And I feel like it’s sort of a disservice to say that what I’m doing now is graffiti art because it’s not. It’s a different world, as valid as a museum or a gallery work. I don’t think there’s any hierarchy and people should begin to understand that the stuff I made a long time ago in street art and in galleries is different than graffiti. It should exist differently and it doesn’t mean because I work now on a gallery that “oh now I’m successful.”
I don’t think it needs gallery or museum validation to be considered art. It’s kinda frustrating because I feel I always have to say “no it is not street art” but my reason for saying that is that I feel it’s important to a lot of people. They need the categories.
Recently we’ve seen a number of abstract SpongeBob paintings, what’s your connection to SpongeBob – does that stem from Pharrell?
SpongeBob, the series is similar like the Kimpsons series that i was doing in 2000. The first was a commission for Pharrell, and after iI started working with the shape… SpongeBob is so similar to so many cartoons, if you look at the expressions: same eyes, same mouth, same nose… small marks can make the difference from one to the next and I like the fact that you, you know, you start to abstract that. People always imagine or just assume they know I’ve done some SpongeBob paintings “ho this is SpongeBob!” It’s kind of playing with people’s recognition and association, and I think that happens a lot. I’m kind of fascinated with how you can do a palette or a certain type of painting and people can recognize and associate the work with you, so I’m always exploring how far you can take that.
Are there any artists who particularly influence you?
All the time I’m following different artists, I’m always posting on Facebook or Instagram about artists that I’m excited about, and you know, sometimes I like an artist and I get distracted and start to look at other artists and many years I come back too into it, and I got new images to compare so it’s like never ending.
It’s impressive the way you’re able to balance gallery art and all the product.. And now you’re officially in the high-fashion world with Jason Wu – tell us a bit about that.
Working with Jason Wu was fun. He’s super. He has a great energy, really creative. He’s really good at what he does and I consider him, along with Takahashi, as a genius. I’ve worked with CDG, Marc Jacobs… this one may seem the most relevant cause it’s the newest but I’ve been doing this a long time now. It brings people from my work to his and others from his work to mine, so that’s a win-win. Whenever I’m making work and doing these collaborations, I’m feeling like there’s spaces you can fill and I felt that this watch-collaboration filled space. So now it’s like: “ok I did the watch, I did it, so I feel fulfilled!”
If you weren’t doing what you’re doing now.. is there anything else you could’ve seen yourself doing?
Nothing, I’d rather be dead! (laughs)
Interview: Pete Williams
Videography: Kamel Boudknadel
Photography: Mathieu Vilasco