In 1996, Brian Donnelly, now known by his moniker KAWS, moved to New York and met fellow street artist Barry McGee, who had a key to the city’s phone booths. KAWS soon devised a strategy: break into the booths, remove their advertising posters, add his own graffiti to the posters, and then reinstall them back in the booth another night. “When I started painting on advertisements, it occurred to me that the ad really set the work in a specific time,” KAWS once said. Indeed, his takes on Calvin Klein advertisements, featuring a young Kate Moss and Christy Turlington, capture the cultural moment of the late 1990s. These early works also reveal KAWS’s first experimentation with his now-signature skull and bones motif, seen on his “Companion” characters and other vinyl toys. While many of these original advertisements are now lost or destroyed, KAWS released a series of collectible posters featuring this body of work in 1999.
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