Interview: KAWS Brings ‘Companion (Passing Through)’ To Philly

PHILADELPHIA — Last week, world famous visual artist KAWS unveiled his 16-foot-tall installation, “Companion (Passing Through),” at 30th Street Station, Philadelphia’s main railroad hub located in the heart of the city’s vibrant University City District. “Companion (Passing Through)” comes to Philly following stops in Hong Kong, New York, Georgia, and Connecticut as part of a collaboration between KAWS, the Amtrak railroad corporation and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA). The statue, available to the public from April 11 to May 14th, sits in the middle of 30th Street Station, which sees an average of 16,000 travelers a day.

Curated by PAFA Creative Director Harry Philbrick, social impresario Tayyib Smith and cultural maven Set Free, a crowd of about 40 members of press and local influencers gathered around to learn more about the project. VIBE also had the chance to sit and talk with KAWS on what this collaboration means to him, and why he chose Philadelphia as the next stop on the tour.

On How This Project Came Together:
KAWS: “After talking to and working with Harry Philbrick, the opportunity organically opened up, and to me, the idea of a train station was a no-brainer. I love the idea of reaching people in their everyday routine, and suddenly they have something to look at on their daily travels. And I think it’s great that Amtrak has allowed us the space to showcase this.”

On The Origin Of The “Companion” Piece:
“When I lived in Tokyo, a friend of mine was really into toys. And at the time, I never thought of making a toy, but I was taking these advertisements and re-working them. I used to think of all the iconic characters that I liked, like Mickey Mouse. When I created “Companion,” it was me literally taking this head that I’d paint over model’s faces in print ads, and working him into this body that was familiar, but not really tangible shape.”

On His Different Collaborations:
“In recent years as things developed, I’ve gotten the rights to work with companies like Lucasfilms and the ‘Star Wars’ characters, Disney and Pinocchio, Warner Brothers and Tweety, and a lot of these IP properties have never allowed someone alter their work. I always think of my work being collected and being discarded and ending up in a thrift store somewhere, because it allows someone to find these other versions of Snoopy and Astro Boy. Since I was doing graffiti, it’s always been about the idea of putting my work out in the world. While I’m here, alive, I want to continue to work with people that I love and am influenced by. “

Photo credit via Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA)