I generally try not to read or pay for Graff and especially Art mags but a friend of mine swung by my shop yesterday with the latest copy of Juxtapoz Magazine and there were two features that caught my eye, (I know, I couldn’t believe it either). One of those being a review of seminal LA graffiti pioneer Risk AWR MSK’s latest solo show (which looked sick btw), and the other was an interview with an artist I have been interested in for a while called Dan Witz. So I gritted my teeth and went down to W H Smith’s on my lunch break and swapped money for a copy.
Dan Witz may only be known briefly to people who recognize his more well publicized work as the guy who does street-art paintings of Humming Birds but on further inspection his body of work is incredible. (Read more by clicking the link)
I’m going to try keep this fairly brief, as all I really know about Witz is what I learnt in his interview I read in Juxtapoz, a bit from that swag book, Graffiti World that everyone got for Christmas from their Nan a few years ago, and some stuff I found whilst snooping around on youtube.
Witz was part of the wave of young artists that found themselves living in Manhattan’s Lower East Side during the late 70’s and early 80’s and became part of the emerging downtown scene that had grown in response to the poverty, degradation and general lawlessness of New York City over the last few decades and had also emerged to counteract the white, upper-class domination of the money fueled New York gallery world. He played in various punk bands, hung out in downtown dive bars and showed his work in clubs and at live shows because no one would put his or his mates stuff in galleries. He says in the Juxtapoz interview, ‘In our scene making it or getting signed wasn’t really an option; originality was the goal. Anyone trying to be marketable or having rock star ambitions seemed bizarre and embarrassing. Since no one was buying there was no temptation to compromise or please anyone but ourselves.’
What initially interested me about Witz’s art was the clinical attention to detail and labor intensive techniques he uses in his work which result in amazing photo-realistic quality paintings. He has an obsession with light, and has done lots of work around this which included a series of lit up buildings viewed from the street at night that were shown in a light-box type format, and (it seems) were painted onto a transparent surface so light could be shined through them. He also did several ‘portraits’ of lamps and a series of portraits of his friends looking into their mobile phones at night, illuminating their faces. My favorite paintings by Witz though are the ones he does of partying and general chaos that have to be observed at close range to be believed. They also include scenes of a busy commute at Grand Central train station and young people getting down and dirty in clubs. He is influenced by several of the old masters and you can really see this in the painting in these works as the quality and attention to detail is insane.
What is also dope about Witz is his appreciation to graffiti. He really liked the stuff he saw in New York when kids first started ‘getting up’ and he always had big respect for a movement that was emerging from the underbelly of the city. He talks about telling girls he met in arty downtown bars that he was a writer, just to get a reaction from them of dis-belief due to his white, punk, art school appearance. This appreciation lead him to start illegally painting finely detailed humming birds around Manhattan which would take him several hours to complete. Love or hate his interpretation of graffiti and vandalism, I think this guy deserves respect due to his open mindness and willingness to get involved and do things for the sake of doing them, not for profit or gain. As a result of his perseverance and huge appetite for creating work he has painted literally hundreds of amazing pictures. I advise you to check out anything he has done as its generally all rad.
Street art is always a bit of a chore for me to write about because I’m not really a fan of the vast majority of it, however Witz is a painter who creates both street and gallery art and deserves a mention. Check this short video about him in which he explains some of his works and why he loves New York so much. It also briefly features his dog, Camile.
Dan Witz – In Plain View