It’s amazing how often we see KAWS’ famed CHUM and COMPANION characters over the years, except in his paintings. They are some of the most recognizable characters in art, hell, in all culture at this point, and yet KAWS has left them off his gallery work. It’s as if KAWS is ubiquitous as ever at this point in his career in the pop universe, and yet was his most abstract and almost more design-heavy in his paintings over the last half decade. SPOKE TOO SOON, now on view at Skarstedt in NYC, is not only a return in his figurative painting, but perhaps his most honest and self-refernetial work he has ever made. 

That sort of honesty, at the end of 2021, a year where he saw musuem shows in Brooklyn and Tokyo and constant stream of releases and collaborations, seems like a bold change. We are so used to the almost emoticon-filled yet quietness of these characters, but these seem to be speaking about KAWS himself. There is his own character painting himself into social media, there is a struggle to stay afloat, there is digging a grave of sorts and even a tumbling fall. Perhaps these are conversations of fragility, where even as we see KAWS as one of the biggest crossover and in-demand artists of his generation, we rarely get a humanity to openly discuss.

Well, these are his human paintings, and KAWS seems to shine in them. He is having a conversation with himself about his past and present, and, really, his future, and that all throughout his career, he has made universal comments about celebration and youthful loss.That he has turned the canvas to himself is a refreshing and fascinating change, and it’s nice to see his characters back in the frame again. —Evan Pricco