Review: Kaws At The Yorkshire Sculpture Park

Art & Culture

KAWS, aka Brian Donnelly, aka Brooklyn born international don who’s pals with Kanye and Pharrell Williams has descended upon Yorkshire Sculpture Park, West Yorkshire. No he’s not got lost on the way to London; KAWS, the designer, toy maker and artist is currently holding an exhibition at YSP. I can already hear my dad’s voice in the distance,

‘Thas not from round’ere.’ 

His work aims to engage contemporary art with young people, and that it has, YSP has never seen more hipsters, and unworn walking boots. Any child who grew up in West Yorkshire, me included, will have witnessed the Sculpture Park evolve over the last 10 years. Once what was a cheap, cheerful day out, accompanied with free parking, a ham and cheese sarnie and the occasional 99 flake is now £8 parking, lamb tagines, flat whites and don’t forgot the artisan bread van. Nethertheless on a weekend visit home to the North, my own mother was also keen for me to witness YSP’s newest exhibition, probably in the hope that I realise how happening Yorkshire is and come home for good.

KAWS studied illustration in Manhattan in the early 1990’s and soon become a well versed graffiti artist. From there he developed his cartoon pirate signature style of recognisable skulls, crossed out eyes and blobby characters through t-shirts, toys and sculptures. He straddles the world of art, cartoon and design and is famous for ‘cross pollinating’ his work, which is why the poignant cartoon colossus sculptures typically urban creatures have found themselves a new home in the Yorkshire countryside. He’s fused himself into two worlds, ‘Frieze and Comic Con what’s the difference?’

The six statues of natural and stained wood are found in the lower park. The first out of the six statues, ‘Small Lie’ shows a dystopian Mickey Mouse humanised with a slumped expression. You can’t help feeling sorry for the character, Donnelly cleverly invites you to empathise with the character on a child like level. I wanted to take this strange creature home with me and make it a good cup of yorkshire brew. 

The rest of KAW’s sculptures follow a psychological narrative suggesting compassion, anger and frustration forcing you to ask questions about yourself, and we all know how much northern people hate talking about themselves. KAW’s ‘Good intentions’ examines your own personal narrative, is it a mother and daughter, father and son? Donnelly has successfully created a ten metre high sculpture that somehow feels extremely intimate and exposes your inner five year old. Deep I know. 

The statues for my family personally offered a great talking points, how we each saw a different story. For instance the sculpture ‘Along the way’, what I interpreted as two best friends laughing, my older brother saw it as someone being shot. Either Donnelly has purposely made us think these things or my brother may need to talk to someone, nethertheless they really are quite hypnotic and compelling characters that feel extremely relatable on a human level. 

The audience at Yorkshire Sculpture Park may not have heard of KAWS before, but I feel somewhat proud such a iconic artist of my generation has made my little town cool again. Thank you KAWS. 


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