Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Dan Witz

Cool Guy.

see for yoself!

and check out this interview.. (also viewable on his website)

This excerpt from an interview with Dan Witz by Marc and Sara Schiller of The Wooster Collective took place in August of 2007. The full text will be included in Dan Witz. In Plain View. 30 years of artworks illegal and otherwise. To be published by Gingko Press in the Fall of 08. With an introduction by Carlo McCormick.

When you were a kid did you have a black sketchbook?

I did! It went everywhere with me, along with my rapidograph pen. I drew compulsively in styles shamelessly derivative of R. Crumb and Raw Comix. Nothing special. I don't remember being very impressed with myself as a prodigy or anything, but I was the class artist by default. My dream was to move to New York City to be poor and find my dark side and meet the right people and make a career out of my suffering.

You've said your creativity's connected to your rebelliousness.

Well... I had this really normal, healthy childhood. Nice parents, safe home, supported. A nightmare. The worst background possible for an avant-garde artist. Starting around fourteen, I began rebelling, I sought out extreme situations -- the stranger the better. I thought you had to have felt real pain to be authentic. So I cultivated my dark side in the hopes of making me a more interesting person, and a more interesting artist-and, maybe, attract some dark, interesting women. It wasn't until much later though that I actually did my Robert Johnson going-down-to-the-crossroads thing.

I guess I was afraid of being too ordinary. Too well adjusted. Too susceptible to the traps of comfort and security. In the early 70's that kind of apathy was widely perceived as the cause of the world's problems. It was how the Vietnam war got started, what made people sleepwalk through life and why the world was so fucked up. Art, being an artist, being awake, was going to be my rebellion against this state of affairs.

(I thought) I needed to burn that middle class midwestern programming out of me. Scorched earth policy. Drugs and drink. Romanticizing debauchery. I read Bukowski and Kerouac, William Burroughs, Hunter S. Thompson, and listened to Jim Morrison and the Velvet Underground; I idolized dead and dissipated rock stars (Jimi, Janis...), devoured movies like Clockwork Orange and Apocalypse Now. Anything nihilistic or anarchic appealed to me. I wore black. My hair-everything about me was annoying to older people.

Also, during this time -- this is embarrassing -- my friends and I adopted a motto taken from a beer ad: "You only go around once in life, so grab for all the gusto you can." Schlitz, I think it was. Embarassing, not just because of that word, Åegusto', but because that's basically how I made all my decisions for the next 20 years.

When did you get your first tattoo?


What was it?

A star.

A star? Does that have any meaning?

It meant I had a tattoo. In 1974 having a tattoo-even a tiny little star--was unusual. At least where I came from.

What was the influence RISD had on you?

Coming from suburban Chicago, it was a shock. The Eastern private- school culture was very intimidating. Everything midwestern about me was wrong --my hair, my shoes, my taste. Eager, wide-eyed me, I liked Magritte and The Grateful Dead. I wore hiking boots. Brown hiking boots. Every kid growing up in America deals with taste snobbery, but this was combative. But eventually I had to admit they had a point. The Sex Pistols and Andy Warhol were more relevant; hippie times were over. I began to understand that style wasn't necessarily a bad thing. And rebellion was sexy. So it was quick: I got my hair cut, got some black boots, and adjusted my taste in music.

Art students should know everything new that's happening. That's their job. In such a world, nothing is worse than having the wrong opinions or being uninformed. Their scorn, or the mere risk of it, was a formative experience for me.

Was art school still something you were rebelling against or a place you could express yourself?

Both. Art schools back then were more anti-establishment, less explicitly about careers. Being a loser was considered acceptable, even interesting. Art was still [viewed as] an essential part of the social fabric, an agent for change. Artists had a social responsibility. There was this almost religious belief that Cubism and Modernism had changed the world, painting had freed something; art was a potent force,capable of influencing the public. It sounds quaint now but pictures on a wall could actually change the way people thought.

The big discovery during this period was that there were things hidden below the surface, forces of subtle power. It was an artist's job to bring these to light, and these universal truths would re-connect us with ourselves and help the world become a better place. Anyway, I bought it.

Besides the politics, did you learn drawing and the basics?

Definitely. And photography. And carpentry. And oil painting technique . And color theory. And anatomy. A lot of useful things.

So, if this was the era of conceptual art, how did your influence move from R. Crumb and Raw Comix to painterly realism? How and why did your technique get so realistic, so technical?

This was later, after I moved to New York: I was at Cooper Union but spending more time exploring the city, in bars and clubs, hanging around the art-punk scene. That group despised successful artists. "Posers", they called them. Personally, still wanting to be successful, I tried to keep an open mind. I did my time in museums and video rooms. Mostly, though, I found conceptual art unrewarding and dull. Apparently the goal was to be removed from ordinary life, to be beyond regular people's access, and if you wanted the entrance code you had to work really hard to get it. Why? I understood reductionism but what was wrong with letting people in? What good is art that makes people feel unworthy and left out? I still don't know. This was the beginning of a life-long aversion to anything exclusionary. Or boring. Especially boring. For me, that was the worst thing art could be. If you couldn't dance to it (metaphorically, I mean) then fuck it.

And, since that was the mono-movement of the times, I was happy to rebel against it. Realism, accessability seemed really seditious at the time. That suited me fine.

Mostly, I just wanted to make the kind of art I wanted to see. I look back and see that developing my own style had a lot to do with rejection Å| rebelling against the status quo, a reaction...Mostly I defined myself by what I didn't want to be.

When did the street start influencing you?

Back then, Providence was the costume jewelry capital of the world. Walking around I'd find all this tiny metal stuff laying on the ground--fittings, ball bearings, odd, tiny, inscrutable things--robot flotsam. When my pockets got full, I'd set up these ordered displays on window ledges or other flat surfaces. Carefully, like in a museum cabinet or store window, I'd line the objects up or make a regimented little circle or something and leave it behind. I don't think it ever occurred to me to photograph it. I liked thinking about people coming upon them and being mildly puzzled. This was also the first street art I made in New York when I transferred to Cooper Union. I still do this by the way. The stuff is mostly plastic now, which although more colorful, isn't as much fun.

Right. So you moved to New York. When was this?


What were your first impressions of New York?

Terror. The black-out and riots had just happened. If you lived outside NYC back then, you thought you'd be mugged the minute you got to town, that they'd steal the gold fillings from your teeth before you got out of Port Authority.

That's all for today!

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