Now, American artist KAWS’ signature character, Companion, is set to take to the skies across several world cities — as a hot air balloon.
On Monday, KAWS, whose real name is Brian Donnelly, announced plans to fly his huge new sculpture above major cities in countries including Australia, China, Turkey and Spain. The exact schedule will be dictated by demand for flight packages, which will see groups of two or three ascend in the balloon for an as-yet-undisclosed price.
The hot air balloon pictured on a flight in Bristol, UK. Credit: @rkrkrk
Images from a recent test flight near Bristol, UK — a city known for hosting one of Europe’s largest hot air balloon festivals — show an inflated Companion covering his eyes as he soars high above the ground. At 42 meters (138 feet), the floating artwork is about as tall as a 15-story building.
As well as offering a unique experience for fans, Donnelly said he wanted to provide a surprising moment for people on the ground.
“It really will be an unexpected thing in the sky,” he said on a call from New York City. “To have a work that suddenly interrupts your sight line for a few minutes, going through different cities in the world, is, for me, very exciting.”
The hot air balloon is about as tall as a 15-story building. Credit: @rkrkrk
Navigating Covid restrictions
KAWS, who started out as a graffiti artist, now straddles the worlds of art, design and pop culture. He created Companion over two decades ago, with his other well-known characters including Accomplice, Chum, Bendy and BFF.
In addition to large-scale sculptures, Donnelly has made his name through toys, merchandise and apparel collaborations with the likes of Nike and Uniqlo.
His latest project is the result of an ongoing partnership with Hong Kong creative studio AllRightsReserved. The hot air balloon will spend approximately one month in each chosen city, beginning in late 2021. Flight packages, which come with a certificate, uniform and KAWS collectible, can be purchased using various cryptocurrencies including Bitcoin, organizers confirmed.
The hot air balloon’s “world tour” will begin at the end of 2021. Credit: @rkrkrk
Donnelly said that the project offered a way for him to contend with the restrictions brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“As an artist we’re just trying to navigate around the situation,” he said. “So many things have gotten canceled, and there are so many different considerations with travel and meeting in groups.
“I thought the balloon would be a great object to create something across a landscape that people can experience … rather than having an exhibition-type piece that everyone gathers around.”
Related video: KAWS sculpture appears on Hong Kong waters
“When I do these projects it’s not like I’m searching out another medium to work in,” he said, adding: “Maybe we’re going to have to start going underwater.”