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American artist Brian Donnelly (b. 1974), or Kaws as he is known in the art world, is currently a moneymaking sensation at auctions. His work, which is often inspired by popular animated and children’s characters, has reached outrageous prices in some markets, most recently in Hong Kong.

On April 1, an auction held at Sotheby’s in Hong Kong brought in $28 million from collectors particularly interested in Kaws’ artwork inspired by The Simpsons. His auction record was broken with the sale of his 2005 piece “The KAWS Album,” which sold for a whopping $14.8 million (HK$115.9 million), when the estimate was between $750,000 to $1 million.

The painting depicts characters from the show with Kaws’ signature X’s for eyes in a parody of a parody. Kaws re-invented the cover for The SimpsonsThe Yellow Album, a 1998 collection of original songs sung by the characters, which was in turn reinterpreting The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover. Japanese designer and collector Nigo, who sold the piece through Sotheby’s, commissioned the piece in 2005.

The piece, Sotheby’s explained, “demonstrates the epitome of Kaw’s subversive wit, prescient vision, and affectionate irreverence for our times, manifesting as an iconic apotheosis of Kaw’s entire artistic and cultural lexicon.”

During the same auction, two more of Kaws’ Simpsons– inspired paintings were also sold: “Untitled (Kimpsons)” and “Untitled (Kimpsons #3).” Both works depict the Simpson family on their couch with crosses for eyes. The former shows them watching television, while in the other one they appear unconscious. “Untitled (Kimpsons)” sold for $2.7 million and “Untitled (Kimpsons #3)” for $2.6 million.

Additionally, another 42 individual portraits of Simpsons characters transformed by Kaws were sold at the auction. Painting of main characters sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars: Bart ($239,044), Maggie ($318,725), Lisa ($270,916), while other less famous characters sold in lots of five paintings ranging from $318,725 to $557,769.

Another notable cartoon-related item sold during the Hong Kong auction was a Kaws-designed, 18.5-inch high figure inspired by manga icon Astro Boy, which sold for $398,406.

According to art specialists, the extravagant price tags in Hong Kong is the result of a shift in the age group of Asians who are wealthy enough to collect fine art. Affluent collectors, described as “cool millennial buyers in hoodies,” are now younger and looking for pop culture-related pieces with iconic. Sotheby’s knows this and gearing its auctions for this market with artists like Kaws.

“The Kaws Album”
The KAWS Album.

“Untitled (Kimpsons)”
"Untitled Kimpsons."

“Untitled (Kimpsons #3)”
Untitled (Kimpsons #3)

“Untitled (Astro Boy)”
Untitled (Astro Boy)

(Image at top courtesy of Sotheby’s.)

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Carlos Aguilar

Carlos Aguilar is a contributing writer to Cartoon Brew.

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