“The first thing I did of any note was in ’79. The book really went through 2009 but it took an extra year to get it out. So it’s actually 31 years. Don’t tell anyone,” Dan Witz warns as he drips blood red paint gingerly across the front of 120 special edition linen bound copies of his new book. While his small muscular dog Sparky maniacally batters a red rubber toy, repeatedly bashing it on the floor, Dan talks about the today’s book signing and the hummingbirds that gave his career wings.
One of the early practitioners of Street Art as we now know it, Mr. Witz points to his campaign of detailed small paintings of hummingbirds on the Lower East Side of Manhattan as his official start on the street, but reveals that smaller ad hoc projects preceded the avian arts.
“I did these assemblage things along the street where I would just find trash and line it up in little displays and leave them behind. I never really photographed it or thought of it as art really,” says Dan. What kind of trash was it? “Just little weird pieces of plastic or funny kinds of pieces of metal; Sort of urban flotsam. Like things you pick up and say, ‘What’s this weird shiny thing?’ – that kind of stuff.”
The new bound collection by Ginko Press spans the following three decades, where Dan’s punk rebelliousness took a hammer to the intellectual stodginess of his formal art school training before our eyes. Well, maybe not in plain view exactly. Many of his street installations have been hidden just behind your blind spot, wittily, and more recently, uncomfortably. But it’s all here in this collection, even if he feels that his route has been a bit haphazard.
“Everything I do – It’s fun in the beginning and then I figure it out and I hone it down to how I should do it and I hate it. That’s why my work always keeps changing – what I did three years ago doesn’t look like my work now because I figured it out and I couldn’t do it anymore. Like I could not do hummingbirds now because I’ve figured it out. I know how to paint hummingbirds,” he explains.
Is this periodic switching due to his intellectual curiosity being satisfied? “I would put it another way. It’s like my attention span is zero and I just get so restless with whatever I do – which is bad for a career because there’s not a thing to identify with me. A lot of people stick with one kind of thing and I don’t know how they do that but I admire that because it’s very consistent and people know what they are getting.”
Self effacing modesty aside, his mastery of painting and light, combined with an ongoing study of art history and theory, has created a body of work over this time that stands, despite side trips and experimentation.
Brooklyn Street Art:Don’t you think that over a period of time all of your different elements create one story?
Dan Witz: Well that’s what the book is about. If you can stick with it for as long as I have I suppose that’s true. I think when I was a kid and I was doing the hummingbirds I was sort of rebellious, I think it’s part of my being rebellious is not having a ‘package’, not having a brand that is marketable. And I don’t know what the fuck I’m rebelling against anymore. (laughs) It’s just I got set up that way and I just keep doing it. But I’m not doing it on purpose. It is really fun for me. It’s fun to start up something new and get all nervous. Solve the problem, meet the challenge. That’s what keeps me from getting stale.
Brooklyn Street Art:It sounds like it’s a way to keep yourself entertained too because of your self professed short attention span – so it looks like you’ve designed your life right now to keep yourself interested and engaged and entertained.
Dan Witz: Absolutely, the book is a whole new project and a whole new brain-teaser.
DAN WITZ “IN PLAIN VIEW: 30 Years of Artworks Illegal and Otherwise”
Limited Edition Release
Reception and Book Signing
Monday, November 22, 2010
Limited Edition hand painted signed and numbered copies of Dan Witz’s will be available for purchase.
NEW YORK, November 9, 2010 – Clic Gallery is proud to present the book release and signing of internationally recognized street artist Dan Witz’s new book “IN PLAIN VIEW: 30 Years of Artworks Illegal and Otherwise” on Monday, November 22, from 6:30-8:30 pm. At the evening event, Dan Witz will not only be signing books, but will also be hand painting the cover of a limited edition of 120 copies. Each signed and numbered edition will feature a fine linen, hand painted cover, in a classic tromp l’oeil style by the artist, merging his two worlds of fine art and street art through a new medium: the printed book. Hardcover, clothbound, 216 pages, 250 color illustrations, 9” x 12” (229 x 305 mm), $150, Ginko Press.
More than just a documentation of Witz’s public artworks, this book is a diary of three decades of thoughtful and emotional engagement with the ever evolving surfaces of New York City. Embracing a meticulously disciplined aesthetic inspired by the old masters, Witz has spent the last decades making easel paintings as well as street art, leaving various love letters in plain view on the doorstep of his beloved New York City.
Dan Witz is in conversation with both the conventional and street worlds of art. His work is inclusive. It is obsessive. It is acknowledged as an original voice, an inspiration and a catalyst.
Fine art prints by Dan Witz will be on view and available for sale as well as signed copies of his Hummingbirds 2011 accordion calendar, also published by Gingko Press. The Birds of Manhattan was the first of Dan’s large scale street art projects where he painted over 40 hummingbirds in lower Manhattan below fourteenth street. This twelve month calendar draws on a selection of the artist’s hummingbirds painted in 1979, 2000 and 2010, bringing the collection full-circle and completely up-to-date. The Dan Witz In Plain View book signing event is free and open to the public.
About Dan Witz
Since receiving his BFA from Cooper Union, Dan Witz has received a grant from the NEA and two fellowships from the New York Foundation of the Arts. His first book, “The Birds of Manhattan,” was published by Skinny Books in 1983. Solo exhibitions include Semaphore Gallery NY (1985,1986), Clementine Gallery (1996), Stolen Space, London (2007); DFN Gallery NY (2003-5, 6, 7, 8, 10) and Carmichael Gallery, LA (2009). Group exhibitions include: Buying Time: Nourishing Excellence, Sotheby’s NY(2001); and Fifteen, NYFA Fellows at Deutsche Bank, NY (1999). Today Dan lives and works in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.
Manhattan is turning into a Mall. There I’ve said it.
In the 80’s when I first got to NYC my best friend guided me through the canyons of Manhattan lamenting the pace of change, the cultural cornerstones gone, the new soul-lessness that was going up in new buildings and neighborhoods. I said, “Get over it, are you kidding? This place is amazing!”
Hi De Hi, Hi Di Ho! Making a call while Billi Kid looks on (photo Jaime Rojo)
Now the pace of “progress” that has turned every small and mid-sized city in America into an interchangeable power strip of Olive Gardens, Radio Shacks, and OfficeMaxes has gradually infiltrated the culturally vibrant and wacky island. But it isn’t only Manhattan, it’s true in almost every neighborhood in the city – In fact, the chains are shackling most of our culture to a homogenized dullness that preys on low-paid workers elsewhere and creates low-paid workers here. How many Mom-and-Pop stores have been wiped out by the undercutting prices and special tax considerations that Big Box stores have?
Ask James and Karla Murray.
They started taking pictures of New York’s Mom-and-Pop stores a decade ago when they were out shooting graffiti. By definition, a Mom-and-Pop is a family-owned and usually family-run business with roots in it’s community, providing needed goods or services and jobs and wealth to it’s small ecosystem. The Murrays noticed that they were disappearing, rapidly. It alarmed them and they published a book featuring those businesses call “Store Front: The Disappearing Face of New York”, featuring 250 images of these Mom and Pops.
Buildmore, Morgan Thomas, and Blanco love pasta! (photo Jaime Rojo)
A new show, open to the public this Saturday, features images from that book blown up almost to their original size in a “streetscape” and installed on a gorgeous rooftop. The twist with this show of storefronts is it also includes the work of 28 artists all over it, thanks to the curating skills of Billi Kid, street artist and entrepreneur. We went to the opening of the event (read here) and then we had the pleasure of interviewing the authors and the curator of the show to get more of the backstory:
Brooklyn Street Art: How did the opening party go?
Karla Murray: The opening party was a huge success. We have to thank Liz and Genevieve at Gawker Artists for helping launch such a great event as well as Billi Kid for planning and curating the event. We have never seen our Store Front photos so big before, let alone be decorated by many talented graffiti and street artists. Lots of media and artists were there to celebrate the unveiling of the exhibit. We also want to thank Bear Flag wines who donated the wine.
Ticky/Underwater Pirates, and Celso with guests (photo Jaime Rojo)
Brooklyn Street Art:How did you come up with this unusual idea and then convince Jim and Karla to help make it happen?
Billi Kid: Jim and Karla’s book had been sitting on my coffee table for quite a while and of course, triggered the original idea. MOM & POPism was my fourth collaboration with J&K, our second in which other artists work over their images, so it came down to a matter of trust and love for the concept. To be honest, they jumped right in. No arm twisting on my part. If anything, we three held our breath while waiting for Gawker Artists, who presented the exhibition, to decide whether they wanted to commit their time and resources to the event. Liz Dimmit, our champion and curator of Gawker Artists, fought our battle hard and flipped the POWERS THAT BE over to the dark side.
Royce Bannon monster takes a bite (photo Jaime Rojo)
Birds on a ledge by Cern (photo Jaime Rojo)
David Cooper and Ralph’s (photo Jaime Rojo)
Brooklyn Street Art:Can you describe the process and materials you used to print these large scale repicas of storefronts?
James Murray: The process began by Billi Kid selecting the photos from our “STORE FRONT” book that he thought would have enough “negative” space for artists to paint directly on top of the photo but still maintain the integrity of the store. After Billi Kid told us his initial selection of images, we worked with him making the final selection. We based this decision on the actual image size because we wanted to use photos that we knew would be able to be blown up to that large size and remain clear. We then gave all the image files to Billi Kid so that he could do the math on every one of them and figure out how large the image would print. He also figured out what spaces the artist would paint on and assigned every artist a particular area to paint on. Billi Kid then printed out our photos in segments of 4 feet wide by 9 feet high on matte photo paper rolls using his wide-format printer. If it wasn’t for Billi Kid owning such a large printer, this project would never have gotten off the ground because it would have been too expensive to print at a local lab.
Ideal Dinettes, in business from 1953-2008 Brooklyn, 2004, by James and Karla Murray from “STORE FRONT- The Disappearing Face of New York”
Brooklyn Street Art: Were you ever afraid it wasn’t going to work out?
Billi Kid: Only in so far as the weather was concerned. When we kicked off the planning phase of MOM & POPism, the last thing we figured was a rainy July/August season. Who knew? We had considered the tremendous amount of work involved in getting this to look just right. I mean, Liz Dimmit actually committed to building 9 walls on the roof of Gawker Media HQ so that we could cover them with James and Karla’s beautiful photography. On top of that, we had to figure out the blown-up dimensions of each image and how to layer them up as wallpaper slices. It was definitely touch and go for most of the process, but the stars finally aligned in our favor.
Lady Pink (photo Jaime Rojo)
Brooklyn Street Art: Isn’t Billi Kid rude and difficult to work with?
Karla Murray: Billi Kid is one of the nicest and most generous guys as well as a talented artist. This is the 3rd time we have collaborated with him on an exhibition. The first was a graffiti/street art/photography hotel room installation at the Carlton Arms Hotel in Manhattan and the second was an exhibition called Underground/Overground at the Artbreak Gallery in Williamsburg. We also selected him to be part of an exhibition we are curating during Art Basel Miami called GRAFFITI GONE GLOBAL presented by SushiSamba Restaurants. His work, including the panel he painted as part of MOM and POPism, will be shipped down to Miami and included in the show that takes place from Dec 3-6, 2009.
Brooklyn Street Art:How important is community in a project like this?
Billi Kid: As curator, my first concern for MOM & POPism was to bridge the gap between graffiti/street art and how it is exhibited in a gallery environment. I wanted the public to experience it in it’s pure form, exactly how I see it when I walk the city streets. Secondly, I wanted to continue James and Karla’s “Store Front” conversation along with the sadness felt by all as we watch the disappearing face of New York along with the economic and artistic implications involved. And last, it was all about community. Bringing all of these talented artists to this roof was a dream come true. When working together, the community can go a lot further in spreading the love as far as I’m concerned.
Shiro and her buddy by her piece (photo Jaime Rojo)
Brooklyn Street Art:What conversation do you hope to spark about the significance of these businesses, and their disappearance?
James Murray: We hope to open people’s eyes to the disappearance of these mom-and-pop businesses and encourage people to shop in them and support them. Since we began the project of documenting these stores over 10 years ago, over half of the images which appear in the book have now closed. With the economy doing poorly even more businesses are threatened. These mom-and-pop stores are what makes each neighborhood in the 5 boroughs unique. They are the backbone of the community and when they close a little piece of history is lost.
Brooklyn Street Art:Do you think people are beginning to make the connection between corporate power, globalism, big box stores, and the killing off of Mom-and-Pop’s?
Karla Murray: We hope that people do make the connection between corporate power and big box retailers and the killing off of Mom-and-Pops. People often have the misconception that shopping at a big box is cheaper then going to a local store but it’s not true! Many store owners have told us that their prices are actually lower and the quality of their goods are better. These mom and pop store owners take pride in what they sell and stand behind their product whether its food or clothing or whatever. Many of these businesses have been handed down from generation to generation and the owners are proud to have their name attached to their store.
Brooklyn Street Art:Sometimes when you stretch your mind to combine art and artists in a new way, you can reach a new audience. Maybe you are letting more people know about these artists…
Billi Kid: Whenever I have a willing ear, I’m always talking about preaching beyond the choir. The work deserves and demands a wider audience. It’s beautiful to see and read how people outside of the graffiti and street art world reacted to MOM & POPism. Hallelujah!
Zoltron took the signs to a new street (photo Jaime Rojo)
Brooklyn Street Art:Now that the family owned stores are gone, do you see any hopeful signs in the development of the cityscape?
James Murray: Many family-owned businesses are still in existence so we remain hopeful that the cityscape will not change too drastically.
Infinity says he liked the garbage bags piled there because it looks more realistic (photo Jaime Rojo)
Brooklyn Street Art:What was the biggest surprise of the whole installation? Karla Murray: The biggest surprise was all the rain we got while doing the installation. We knew going into this that the weather was not something we could control but we really were subjected to extremes. The boards were even blown over by a heavy wind/rain storm and had to be secured more tightly. When the artists were painting on the photos we had to erect “tents” out of tarps to keep them covered from the heavy rain storms. We even had to change the date of the opening party under threat of rain. Despite all this, everything worked out well and the photos and artwork held up remarkably well to the elements.
David Cooper signing a copy of Jim and Karla’s book (photo Jaime Rojo)
Brooklyn Street Art: Work and logistics aside, it looks like you had fun putting this one together!
Billi Kid: OK, scratch everything I said so far! Hell yeah!!! It was all about having fun! Seeing how much pleasure each artist had working and looking over each other’s shoulder was my finest moment in bringing MOM & POPism to life. At the end of the day, we ALL have to enjoy what we do, because it shows.
Here’s a piece by videographer Greg DeLiso:
MOM & POPism include Blanco, Buildmore, Cake, Celso, Cern, Chris (RWK), Crome, Cycle, David Cooper, Destroy & Rebuild, Enamel Kingdom, Goldenstash, Infinity, Kngee, Lady Pink, Matt Siren, Morgan Thomas, Peru Ana Ana Peru, Plasma Slugs, Royce Bannon, Shai R. Dahan, Shiro, The Dude Company, Tikcy, Under Water Pirates, Veng (RWK), Zoltron and Billi Kid.
MOM & POPism will be open to public on Saturday, August 15th from noon to 4 p.m. Additional exhibition viewings are available by appointment throughout August.
Previous projects that combined the talents of James and Karla and Billi: