Most people commute to and from work. Some spend hours caught in rush hour traffic, trapped in their cars. Others use their bikes or skateboards or a bobbing, roaring ferry. Some lucky ones just walk. In New York City most commuters use the subway and the buses to get to their offices, kitchens, stores, classrooms, campuses, and after a while, the commute disappears.
On trains and buses we are packed like sardines, avoiding eye contact, keeping to our phones and books or staring at our shoes or out a window. Maybe you get a seat, otherwise you sway back and forth tethered to a silver bar, banging into others, observing or zoning out.
On your commute you may have serendipity, a discovery, a newly germinated idea.
Chris DAZE Ellis. “Subway Interior” 2017. P.P. O. W. Gallery. NYC. (photo © Jaime Rojo)
You may feel ill, or fall asleep, or become riveted by an evesdropped conversation. Children’s faces pressed against windows, parents catching a catnap, helping with homework, putting on eyeliner. Actors practice lines, others rehearse standup routines. Lust is awakened, love blooms, loneliness aches.
The act of commuting in NYC is rarely solitary. Or quiet.
A lifelong New Yorker, artist Daze has found inspiration in the train lines the way many authors do, relishing and memorizing details. Since hitting up trains in the golden 70s-80s era, he has never lost his love of the daily commute and the millions of idiosyncracies. Now in his first ever solo exhibition in New York City, Daze returns to the subways and streets for inspiration, bringing vibrancy and color and a few ragged edges.
Chris DAZE Ellis. “242nd Street” Detail. P.P. O. W. Gallery. NYC. (photo © Jaime Rojo)
For “Daily Commute” the artist revisits some familiar spots, paying tribute to known and unknown characters in a familiar way of someone who knows the city very well, without condescension or sentimentality but with the respect for a city that takes you and shakes you and throws you away and embraces you and comforts you and reads you a line from a play or a poem. If you’re lucky.
We spoke to the artist about his love for his city and his experience on its streets:
BSA: You have never lost your love for New York and its public spaces. Can you talk about something that stays true about the city decade after decade?
DAZE: I think of New York as always being a rather inclusive and diverse city. It has a long history of both that continues till this day. These are a couple of the ingredients that would make it difficult for me to live anywhere else.In choosing subject matter I am always searching for examples that represent these qualities.
BSA: The palette for many of these new works is bright and saturated with vibrant color, even though the actual city can be more subdued and grey. Is this emotion, or possibly imagination at work?
DAZE: I actually have two approaches to creating the “look” of my paintings. One is a more monochrome affect which is usually in greys,whites,and blacks. They are part of a series I call the” Grey Scale paintings” although because there are little bits of color they are not truly monochromatic. These paintings are based on black and white photo’s that I shoot on film.
The other approach is to use make work that is more color saturated. I begin with a color that will establish the overall look or mood of the painting and then work from there. I think that even though my paintings are very urban there can sometimes be something tropical about them.
Chris DAZE Ellis. “Midtown” 2016. P.P. O. W. Gallery. NYC. (photo © Jaime Rojo)
Chris DAZE Ellis. “Rush Hour Reflection” 2017. P.P. O. W. Gallery. NYC. (photo © Jaime Rojo)
Chris DAZE Ellis. “Blue Portal” 2017. P.P. O. W. Gallery. NYC. (photo © Jaime Rojo)
BSA: When looking at many of the paintings it strikes the viewer that perhaps you are attracted to portals, small viewers that allow one to see further inside a situation.
DAZE: The use of portals is almost voyeuristic. It’s the old looking out at the contemporary. I got the idea for this from my memories as a child. The subways had these portal shaped windows on all of the doors. I really enjoyed looking out of them and watching the neighborhoods change as I rode by.
Chris DAZE Ellis. “Jackson Heights” 2017. P.P. O. W. Gallery. NYC. (photo © Jaime Rojo)
Chris DAZE Ellis. “Masquerade, W.H. in Times Square” 2017. P.P. O. W. Gallery. NYC. (photo © Jaime Rojo)
BSA: One of your opus pieces in this show, which we had the pleasure of seeing at its genesis in studio a little while ago, features an iconic personality who creates his own splendid costumery, and has for years.
DAZE: The subject of the painting,” Masquerade” is Wendell Headley. He is an artist that I’ve known since my early days at Fashion Moda gallery in the Bronx circa 1982. When I first met him he would come into the gallery wearing these elaborate outfits that he made himself and just hang out. People would donate clothes and he would take the clothes apart, reconstruct them, and give them new life. He is not only a brilliant designer but truly a living sculpture.
Wendell is not someone that is trying to perform, his life is his art. I had wanted to do a portrait of him for a long time but I would only run into him sporadically in different areas of the city, usually highly populated areas.
One evening I ran into him in Times Square and I photographed him for a bit. It was really great because in the midst of all these people dressed up as Disney or Marvel comic book characters he was just being himself. He was embodying his art and that’s what defines him. I have a lot of respect for him as a creative.
Chris DAZE Ellis. “Generations” 2017. P.P. O. W. Gallery. NYC. (photo © Jaime Rojo)
BSA: Can you speak about P.P.O.W and its connection to the graffiti and Street Art scene and what it means to you to be having your solo show here?
DAZE: PPOW is an amazing gallery that is very much like a family to me. I was close friends with many of the artists that they show and represent so it feels very natural to be there. I’ve watch them grow over the years from The east village scene in the 80’s until now and always respected what they do and how they present exhibitions, no matter how difficult.
Being represented by them continues the dialogue I’ve had with people like Martin Wong and Charlie Ahearn. I don’t think they see my work as “graffiti”. I’m not trying to do graffiti paintings. There are elements of it that appear within the layering of my paintings but my work is more about the the urban diaspora of New York and what I have lived here.
Chris DAZE Ellis. “Times Square blizzard” 2016 P.P. O. W. Gallery. NYC. (photo © Jaime Rojo)
Chris DAZE Ellis. “Interior of an IND Subway Car” 2017. P.P. O. W. Gallery. NYC. (photo © Jaime Rojo)
Chris DAZE Ellis. P.P. O. W. Gallery. NYC. (photo © Jaime Rojo)
Chris DAZE Ellis (photo © Jaime Rojo)
DAZE “Daily Commute” is currently open to the general public at P.P.O.W. Gallery at 535 West 22nd Street in NYC. Show closes on March 17th.