Whether you know it or not, you’ve surely been exposed to the works of KAWS. The alias of Brooklyn-based artist Brian Donnelly, he first caught people’s attention with his ad disruption street art pieces, though his work has since been exhibited in museums, been the basis for a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon, and he even redesigned the trophy for the MTV Video Music Awards. Beyond these grandiose accomplishments, the artwork of KAWS has adorned everything from skateboard decks to sneakers, from t-shirts to… well, just about anything you can imagine.

A Brief History of the Companion

One truly noteworthy aspect of KAWS’ career trajectory is that he was one of the first artists to embrace the designer toy movement. Released in 1999, the first Companion figures depicted a skinny-legged, Mickey Mouse-esque body topped with the artist’s already signature skull and crossbones, a stylized rendition with X-ed out eyes. These Companion figures were released in partnership with HECTIC and Bounty Hunter, the three color versions each limited to 500 pieces.
KAWS' 2016 Companion (Open Edition) Review - Bounty Hunter Versions
Immediately well received, even at the New Museum’s store, KAWS would evolve several other concepts into vinyl sculpture form. But, in 2004, the Companion returned with the Five Years Later version. Made with more realistic, less cartoonish proportions, the same three color schemes were employed for these versions — brown, black, and gray. And, once again, each was limited to 500 pieces.
KAWS' 2016 Companion (Open Edition) Review - 5YL Versions
Then in 2006, supposedly in response to collectors wishing to know more information about his creations, KAWS revealed the literal interior workings of his Companion. Displayed as a massive 10-foot tall statue within his own OriginalFake store, this dissected version heralded a new rendition of the figure, which were officially titled OriginalFake Companions. Again limited to 500 pieces in each of the three color schemes, the popularity of these would lead the way to 4-foot tall vinyl versions beginning to be issued in 2007.

With the closure of OriginalFake in 2013, there was speculation that KAWS was departing from the designer toy art movement, satisfied to never again issue a vinyl sculpture edition. But, for the opening of October’s retrospective exhibition at The Modern in Fort Worth, Texas (see here), brand new versions of the Companion figures were issued.

My Impressions of the 2016 Companion

Standing ten and three-quarters inches tall as opposed to the Five Years Later’s fourteen and a half inch height, both the Companion and newly-renamed Flayed versions were made available, each in the same three classic color schemes we’d regularly seen. Denoted as Open Edition pieces, meaning that there is no set limitation in the number to be produced, I can confirm that each figure had a quantity of 666 pieces available online for the debut.

With a stance that radiates their fine art sculptural roots, the regular version has limited articulation at the neck and full rotation ability on the arms, wrists, and shoes. The flayed rendition has the same feel and articulations, save for the head which is locked into place.
Obviously, the duality of the flayed version is far more captivating, with its cartoonish character side juxtaposed against the exposed medical model interiors. But it is really given a full sense of its context by situating it near the non-dissected version. And as this is the first time the two were simultaneously made available, it was certainly a boon for aficionados of KAWS’ art.

Editions of the 2016 Companion [show]

For more information on KAWS:
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