He’s been to Seoul, Taipei, Hong Kong and Japan, and so with Asia well covered, Brian Donnelly – the artist better known as KAWS – decided to send his iconic figurine, COMPANION, to space for its 20th birthday. That’s right, the KAWS:HOLIDAY project has embarked on its most ambitious journey yet, sending COMPANION 136,296ft into the stratosphere. Following super high speeds, COMPANION – replete in a gold-coloured astronaut suit – completed a two-hour zero-gravity walk in uninhabited space before returning to earth, with the entire adventure taking eight hours from lift-off to touchdown.
“So many projects have been cancelled this year, so I wanted to create one that could be experienced safely from home,” explains the artist. “Because this year marks 20 years since I created COMPANION, I tried to find a way around all the restrictions and do something special. I felt so confined the past few months that creating a project like this has really given me a chance to escape.”
While Alexei Leonov was the first person to create an artwork in space, a pencil drawing of a sunrise when the Russian astronaut was hurtling around Earth in 1965, KAWS’s piece might well be the first piece of art delivered into space – and certainly the first to be successfully returned from orbit. The sheer ambition of this project is demonstrative of the artist’s dedication, but certainly doesn’t mark an end to the scope to which we’ve become accustomed. As he explained to Esquire Singapore last year: “Sometimes I create art in the moment and it feels like the greatest thing I have ever done, and then I look back and think it wasn’t that important.”
KAWS is representative of that mainstream crossover of fine art and commercial product, popularised by the likes of Takashi Murakami, Jeff Koons and, before them, Andy Warhol, for it’s rare that Donnelly ever actually has a physical hand in the making of his super-sized works, such are their scale. And like those other artists, KAWS has been the beneficiary of an audience beyond those typically found in the stuffy white cube of art galleries, accruing a popular global fan base that’s allowed him to collaborate with Kim Jones at Dior Men and Comme des Garcons, as well as exhibit his work at the Hong Kong Contemporary Art Foundation, the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, and the National Gallery of Australia, among others.