Brian Donnelly, known professionally as KAWS was born in 1974 in Jersey City, New Jersey. He graduated from the School of Visual Artys in New York with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in illustration in 1996. After graduation, he briefly worked as a freelance animator painting backgrounds.
Donnelly began as a graffiti artist growing up in Jersey City, using the name Kaws. After moving to New York City in the 1990s, he started subverting billboards, bus shelters and phone booths. He has also subvertised in Paris, London, Berlin and Tokyo. As he grew older, his influences came from traditional life painters, such as Gerhard Richter, Claes Oldenburg, and Chuck Close. He now makes sculptures, acrylic paintings on canvas, and screen prints. He also collaborates commercially, predominantly on limited edition toys, and also clothing, skate decks and other products.
Kaws' acrylic paintings and sculpture have many repeating images, all meant to be universally understood, surpassing languages and cultures. Some of his characters that date back to the beginning of his career in the 1990s: Companion (created in 1999), Accomplice, Chum and Bendy. One of his early series, Package Paintings, was made in 2000. This series, The Kimpsons, subverted the American cartoon The Simpsons. Kaws explains that he "found it weird how infused a cartoon could become in people's lives; the impact it could have, compared to regular politics." In addition, he has reworked other familiar characters such as Mickey Mouse, the Michelin Man, the Smurfs, Snoopy, and Spongebob Squarepants.
His work is exhibited in galleries and museums, held in the permanent collections of public institutions, and avidly collected by individuals. A number of books illustrating his work have been published. He lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.