Dan Witz - Interview

Juxtapoz // Tuesday, 10 Apr 2007
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Our UK art show photographer Chris Osburn orchestrated an interview with Dan Witz before his show at StolenSpace in London on April 5th. Talking points: the smell of piss, cops, Giuliani, mosh pits, souls, and getting a black eye from a rough incident with a camera.

by Chris Osburn


With three shows in three different countries opening this month, I was impressed that Dan Witz would be available for interview on the opening day of his first solo exhibition outside the US. I met with him at the East London gallery, StolenSpace, where the exhibition would open that night.

You been called the "Godfather of Street Art." How do you feel about that?

Everybody's been making fun of me since that came out. I think maybe it means that I'm the pathetic guy that still does street art. Guys like Keith Haring and Basquiat did it for awhile but then moved on. A lot of artists get tired of the smell of piss and being chased by cops, but I love that stuff.

So, getting out on the street is still important for you?

Yeah. It's freeing and forces you to not feel so precious about your shit. It gets me out of my ego. I haven't made a whole life out of being a gallery artist. That wouldn't be fulfilling for me. By doing so, I think I would become an insider and start to lose the reason I set out to make art in the first place.

As artists get older, they fall into ruts. But, doing some street art every year in New York keeps me on my toes.

So, you were a street artist in New York during the Giuliani years. What was that like?

In a way, Giuliani inspired street art to get big. By cracking down on street art, Giuliani made it seem more rebellious than it really was. Artists started trying to outwit the cops and to dare each other to pull bigger pranks. Ironically, those years were a boon for street art.

Care to comment on how street art has changed since you started in the late 70s?

Things have changed a lot. People know more about street art. It's kind of liberating that everyone is into it now. I don't have to explain what I'm doing, which allows me to create art that is more personal and inward. I don't need to introduce people to the concept of street art because they already have an idea what I'm doing.

You've said the following about light as a subject: "One thing oil paint on canvas can do is make light seem real. Things glow. They're warm and they're welcoming. I think there's a primal attraction to that." How does light play into your "Mosh Pit" paintings?

I'm interested in the dramatic effects of light in the same way as the Old Masters were. It's like tapping into something primal. There's a way to paint to make flesh look real ... like there's blood running beneath flesh ... like the people in the paintings have souls.

So, do you find the pit to be a warm and welcoming place?

Not at all. My mosh pit paintings are based on different photos I took from the middle of pits during shows. I would attach my camera to a pole and then set its timer. One time, the camera swung around and bloodied my face. I got a black eye from that.

What is it about mosh pits that you are attempting to capture in your paintings?

Through the ages, paintings have depicted scenes like Romans raping Sabine women

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