American contemporary artist Brian Donnelly, also known as Kaws, whose works have fetched millions at art auctions, collaborated with long-time creative studio All-RightsReserved (ARR) in Hong Kong to celebrate the 20th anniversary of his Companion character.

Companion – which sports XXs in place of eyes, large gloved hands and big shoes – is inspired by Disney’s Mickey Mouse and is one of Kaws’ signature creations.

The 46-year-old artist has exhibited Companion in Seoul, Taipei, Hong Kong and Japan.

His latest stop: Space.

A metallic sculpture of the Companion work was propelled into the stratosphere for a two-hour, zero-gravity walk. Photo: Allrightsreserved

The team from ARR used a high-altitude balloon to propel the metallic sculpture of Companion
41km into the stratosphere for a two-hour, zero-gravity walk before gently coaxing it back to earth using a parachute.

Kaws: Holiday Space was videotaped last month, but launched only on Monday.

“I’ve always been inspired by space,” the artist tells The Straits Times in an e-mail interview. “The fascination of the unknown and the thought of possibly going (up) one day.”

In all, the journey – from preparation to landing – took about eight hours and was recorded with a 360-degree panoramic video camera.

“I’ve always been inspired by space. The fascination of the unknown and the thought of possibly going (up) one day.” – Kaws

To commemorate the space exploration, three 30cm-tall Kaws: Holiday Space Companion collectibles in gold, silver and black were launched on ARR’s DDT online store on Tuesday. They were sold out immediately.

Donnelly says he is constantly thinking about what sculpture can mean for people.

Covid-19, for instance, has made the artist, who works from his studio in Brooklyn, New York, want to transcend the physical limitations and challenges brought on by the pandemic.

“Because this year marks 20 years since I created Companion, I tried to find a way around all the restrictions and do something special,” says Donnelly, whose artworks have been collected by actors such as Henry Golding, the Malaysian-British star of Crazy Rich Asians (2018), and musicians such as American singer-songwriter Pharrell Williams.

“I felt so confined the past few months that creating a project like this has really given me a chance to escape,” he adds.

The metallic sculpture of Companion was propelled 41km into the stratosphere with a high-altitude balloon. Photos: Allrightsreserved

Donnelly was dubbed the “market phenomenon of the moment” by The New York Times in Oct last year during the Frieze London and Frieze Masters art fairs in Regent’s Park in London.

International art gallery Skarstedt, which deals in works by contemporary artists such as Keith Haring, Robert Mapplethorpe and Pablo Picasso, showed 10 new acrylic abstracts by Kaws, as well as two large resin sculptures.

All the works were snapped up by buyers, the gallery said.

“I find inspiration unavoidable. Both good and bad interactions can send me thinking in a direction that might have nothing to do with the original moment, but somehow find its way into the art I make.” – Kaws

His paintings were priced between US$450,000 (S$615,000) and US$575,000, while the sculptures had tags of US$850,000 each.

Donnelly started dabbling in street graffiti around 1996, painting skulls and XX eyes – his signature motif – on advertising light boxes, telephone booths and bus stops on the streets of Manhattan.

Today, his works include large-scale sculptures, paintings, street art and merchandise design that are exhibited and sold in museums and art galleries around the world.

“I find inspiration unavoidable,” says the artist. “Both good and bad interactions can send me thinking in a direction that might have nothing to do with the original moment, but somehow find its way into the art I make.”

This article first appeared in The Straits Times.