Dan Witz: Prisoners 2012-2013
Lazarides Rathbone, London
January - February 23, 2013
Lazarides Rathbone's first show of the year, Dan Witz: Prisoners 2012 – 2013, welcomes 2013 with works from two of Dan's most recent series: Prisoners and Mosh Pit. Both series demonstrate this New York-based artist's intense attention to detail and incredible command of light while highlighting his sinister sense of humour and his Old Master-like application of technique and decades of experience and skill working in the studio and pulling street art pranks on the outside. The exhibition provided an excellent opportunity for me to catch up with Dan and to arrange the following Q&A. Our interview took place in an exchange of emails after the opening of his show and a quick visit to Bruges before heading back to his Brooklyn home.
Chris Osburn: Do you like showing in London? What's it like working with Lazarides?
Dan Witz: I’ve always enjoyed working in London. Next to NYC, it’s my favorite city for doing street art The light in both places is similar, a soft, post-industrial gloom that seems to suit the emotional temperature of my work. Also, when you get up close in London there’s a grit in the pores that’s exactly the same as New York’s. Since usually I’m using a NYC grate, my pieces transfer well, and feel like they belong.
As far as galleries and showing at Lazarides and things like that, London has been great. Very hospitable. There are some really dedicated people working at Lazarides, which has made showing there an enjoyable experience.
Osburn: How was Bruges?
Witz: It’s fascinating to visit the old master museums in European cities and to see the same characters walking by on the street that you see in the paintings. It was weird; at the Memling Museum in Bruges, the Dour Museum guard could have just stepped out of one of the donor panels (to scowl at me for peering too close).
Osburn: You still like viewing the Old Masters' works?
Witz: I seem to be in a Northern Renaissance period these days. Although, I have to say it’s always been puzzling to me to hear Van Eyck referred to as a Flemish “primitive.” I think sophistication-wise he’s up there with Velásquez, Titian, and Rembrandt. While in London, I got a tattoo of Van Eyck’s personal motto: “ALS IXH XAN” (As Best I Can). I copied it off of the frame of the self-portrait in the National Gallery. It was nice to see it also on the portrait of his wife in Bruges.
Osburn: Your work in the Prisoners series stems from a collaboration with Amnesty International for their Wailing Walls awareness campaign. Care to comment on working with the human right organization?
Witz: With these pieces, the disenfranchised characters and grate imagery were a logical expansion on the dark doings theme from past episodes of the project. But as I began working, I sensed a connection waiting around the corner. I just had to do my daily easel-sit and paint my way there. Usually this “blind alley” way of going about my business would have been fine. I’m in no hurry – and I’m not really one of those artists who is known for one kind of work and has expectations to fulfil. But for these pieces I was employing models, and we needed a story to work with. Also, with my production process being so complicated and time consuming (and expensive now) months of fumbling around in the dark has become just too impractical.
So while in the midst of this gestation phase, Amnesty International contacted me to collaborate on their 2012 street art campaign in Frankfurt. I’d already been painting prisoners, but the hook was that these would literally be prisoners. With names and case histories. More than symbols, or simulations, these were real people. They even had names. And case histories.
Osburn: What's next for you?
Witz: I’m planning a spring tour, hoping to hit a few more cities in Europe, then the plan is to go to Detroit and put up some work there. The working title for the new project is Love Among the Ruins.