KAWS has become the most recent subject of a highly coveted interview in Interview Magazine. Perhaps what is most interesting is the angle of interviewee, actor Toby Maguire. Much of the conversation surrounds KAWS’ upbringing and youth which evolved into his move into art, which includes street art and other mediums. We have given you a head start on the interview below.
TOBEY MAGUIRE: I’m interested in your backstory—how KAWS came to be. So let’s start there.
KAWS: I was born in Jersey City, and I guess that’s probably where it started. When I was young, I tried sports but never really got into them. I played ice hockey because there was a rink up the street from me, but once I grew out of my equipment, my parents were like, “Are you serious about this?” and I said, “Not really.” I think I got into skating and graffiti mostly because they are both solo activities. You can take it where you want to without needing a team to play.
MAGUIRE: Did you have a drawing background? Did you take art classes as a kid?
KAWS: In elementary school I was a bad kid—not bad as in bad behavior but kind of illiterate bad. My fifth grade teacher told my mom, “Maybe he can pursue art?” But really, I had no background. Even in high school, art wasn’t something that occurred to me to pursue. It was just a hobby that I had a heavy leaning toward.
MAGUIRE: So it was more that you were just immersed as a teen in the culture of skating and that led you to art?
KAWS: Definitely. Jersey City is so close to Manhattan. You took the PATH train in for a dollar, so it would only cost $2 for a whole day of skating—from Brooklyn Banks to Tompkins Square Park. I would meet tons of kids from different boroughs, and that parlayed into graffiti. I got mixed into that.
MAGUIRE: What was your family like?
KAWS: My mom’s a housewife. My dad’s a stock-broker. He didn’t graduate from high school. He started by running coffee for the guys on Wall Street.
MAGUIRE: A hustler. A go-getter.
KAWS: Yeah. You learn to appreciate that as you get older. But when I first said that I wanted to go to art school, he was like, “What?” [both laugh] They sent me to look at [Borough of ] Manhattan Community College. I’m not dissing that school, but I went over to look around one day and was like, “Fuck outta here, I’m not going.” So when I got out of high school, I didn’t go right to college. At this time, I was doing graf six nights a week, just painting a lot.
MAGUIRE: Were you going out and hitting walls?
KAWS: Yeah, mostly painting walls at the time. I graduated from high school in ’92 and the first billboard I painted was in ’93. But I was doing regular graf long before I hit the advertising stuff.
MAGUIRE: Where did the name KAWS come from?
KAWS: There’s no meaning to it. It’s just letters that I liked—K-A-W-S. I felt like they always work and function nicely with each other.
Continue reading online over at the Interview Magazine website.