“King Baby in Norway" by Dan Witz, Source: Brooklyn Street Art
Our artist of the week: Dan Witz
As ardent enthusiasts of street art here at Addicted Art Gallery, it's only fair from time to time for us to pay handsome tribute to the real pioneers, those practitioners of the craft who were splattering paint on brick long before anyone had even heard of Keith Haring or Banksy.
One strong example is undoubtedly Dan Witz, whose practice stretches back to the late 1970s, when as an art student, he would prowl downtown New York City in search of opportunities to create work illegally.
Whatever it was, it definitely wasn't "street art", as that term was then yet to be conceived. But it set in motion a process that would turn he, and many to be inspired by him in subsequent years, into celebrated art-world figures and even household names.
The man for whom the museum was not enough...
Witz has said of his formative days as a street artist that, "Back then, the idea was that if the world was a fucked up place that desperately needed changing, and contemporary art (and art schooling) had desperately failed us in this respect, then it became our job as artists to not only challenge the system but also change it.
"Much as I enjoyed museums and galleries, they were part of the problem: clearly exhibiting paintings on some white wall somewhere wasn't going to change many minds." Seeking to make "more immediate impact", Witz initially followed the lead of many of his friends by starting a band, but admitted that "I was a painter at heart", which led him to begin 'tagging' his urban surroundings.
Over the several decades of his career to date, Witz has admitted that a prime motivation of his is to provoke a "WHAT THE FUCK?!!?" response from observers, an aim that he appears to have especially fulfilled with recent interventions that give the impression of not being street art at all.
"Suicide Girl [WTF Series]" by Dan Witz, 2010
An impressive urban art back-catalogue...
Some of Witz's latest work has seen him realistically depict elements of the urban landscape - a barred-over window, or even an air vent - that the passing observer may not even initially realise is not the real thing. They might notice, though, in the corner of their eye, something amiss - maybe sullenly gazing eyes or hands trying to claw their way out.
One collection of works that has attracted particular note, known simply as the Holes series, has been designed to give the impression of holes on various surfaces around Brooklyn. These pieces - like so much of Witz's output - take the form of stickers and silkscreen prints.
It's all a far cry from his earliest days of creating street art, when he would spend two hours painting a tiny realistic hummingbird on a wall, that being the era when painting in public without interruption from the authorities was actually possible in certain marginal neighbourhoods. With modern gentrification has come much more of a 'zero tolerance' police approach, prompting Witz to adopt much quicker methods.
"Hummingbird" by Dan Witz, Source: Street Art London
The man still painting up a storm..
Curiously, however, Witz has claimed to have never been arrested for his illegal activities, which one may be tempted to suggest is indicative of at least some level of artistic appreciation on the part of the powers-that-be. "I'm waiting for the day when they're sitting in their car checking my license one of them decides to Google me", he has joked.
As one might expect in the case of a street artist whose longevity has seen him reach the status of celebrated pioneer, Witz certainly has a long list of achievements and accolades to look back on. Born in Chicago on October 19, 1957, he grew up in Brooklyn and attended Cooper Union on New York City's Lower East Side.
He has since gained considerable official recognition not just as a street artist, but a realist painter, with solo exhibitions down the years having been held in galleries in New York City, London, and Paris. His work has also appeared in group exhibitions in venues in Vienna, Berlin and San Francisco.
A more than worthy 'Artist of the Week'
It might seem strange to some to fete the professional achievements and acclaim of a man whose place in history is owed so much to street art - a genre of activity long kept firmly out of academic art practice. But if there's one urban artist who has shown a true ability to last the distance while continuing to create work of considerable relevance all the way, it is unquestionably Witz.
"Red Rubber Suit With Handcuffs [WTF Series]" by Dan Witz, 2010, Assini-Thomson Collection