Interview: KAWS on His First Solo UK Museum Exhibition

An outdoor/indoor show at Yorkshire Sculpture Park of wondrous, over-sized sculptures and colorful paintings

There’s a balance between the personal and universal, and even the emotive and receptive, within the works of American artist KAWS. His sculptures and paintings exude a frequent immensity, and an always-present captivation. It makes sense, then, that his first major UK solo exhibition would take place both indoors and outdoors. Yorkshire Sculpture Park and the Longside Gallery will play host to 20 works by KAWS, including massive sculptures (one of which is brand new) and five new paintings. Outdoors, materials range from bronze and wood to aluminum and fiberglass. Inside, the bright and buoyant acrylic works further the humor he succinctly conveys. KAWS is a creator of many talents, and the Yorkshire Sculpture Park makes this visible. In order to understand the gravity of the show, we spoke with the artist for his take on outdoor art, scale and impact.

What’s the impact of showing your work in open air? How is it different than showing within walls?

I was really interested in having my larger sculptures in dialogue with each other and with the landscape. There are so many different elements at play when you view a work outdoors and especially in a setting like Yorkshire Sculpture Park where the weather and sky can so drastically change from one hour to the next.

How did you end up at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park?

I was invited by Clare Lilley to take part in the Frieze Sculpture Park in 2014. That’s where we first exhibited “Small Lie” and that’s when the conversation started about possibly doing something together at YSP.

How were these 20 pieces selected? And the paintings you made to debut for this, what do you hope to convey with them?

I chose the works for their relationship to each other and to the Longside Gallery space. The paintings are hard to put into words, they are just a reflection of where my mind is at the moment; I have no message I wish to push onto the viewer.

You frequently work at a very large scale. Why does this appeal to you? When a viewer is wowed by the size of something, how do you then convey the nuance of the piece, and further, the depth?

I think it’s very easy to understand the nuance of the piece once you are standing in front of it and walking around it. Honestly it’s not only large-scale that I’m interested in, I like working in all sizes and will sometimes make the same work in different scales. I like having this relational shift with the viewer. My hope is that someone is wowed by something for what it is and not just the scale.

As for character, you access a sense of the familiar, morphing visuals people connect with but taking them into different emotional spaces. What’s the allure in playing with emotions?

The familiar is just a starting point. Even though the images are widely known, they are somehow personal to me. The emotion in the work is just something that comes out as I develop the works I want to make. I try to make honest work that reflects what I’m thinking at the time I’m producing it.

Your work has appeared at some of the most prestigious and also progressive art facilities around the world. What’s left for you to conquer?

I dont feel like Ive conquered anything. Im really thankful to have had the opportunities to put work into the public realm. Its something Ive always gravitated toward and hope to continue to do.

The KAWS exhibition will run from 6 February through 12 June 2016, at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park at West Bretton, Wakefield WF4 4LG, United Kingdom

Installation images and painting images courtesy of the artist and Yorkshire Sculpture Park