“I’ve wanted the impact of the work to be felt first, and only after that should you begin to wonder who did this and why.” Dan Witz in an interview with Vandalog

Last Saturday I attended the opening reception at White Walls Gallery for Dan Witz’ solo show titled “What the %$#@? (WTF)”.  Witz is a veteran figure in the American street art scene, so I jumped at the opportunity to see some of his works in person.  This is an exhibition of the artist’s Dark Doing series; a series of digital and mixed media works set in custom, handmade frames.  The cast of realistic figures in these artworks run all the way from couples and children down to horse heads and BDSM bondage scenes, all of which are slightly distorted set behind Trompe-l’œil grated windows and reinforced glass.  Witz’ intention is to cull a reaction from the viewer and to make them give it a double take, possibly even (as the title suggests) to get them to say “What the fuck?”

Over Dan Witz’ 30 year career as a street artist and realist painter, there are a few consistent characteristics of his work that I admire.  Witz has created some of the most innovative and positively novel street art; one example of this is from one of his earliest series.  In the late 70’s and early 80’s, inspired by legendary graffiti writers who were going bigger and bolder, bombing entire trains and walls all over the five boroughs, Witz went another direction.  He created a tag in acrylic (not aerosol) that was original and distinct; a life size, realistic hummingbird.  He painted tons of these hovering hummingbirds all over Manhattan; each one was about 4 inches big and took about 4 hours to complete.

Another characteristic of Dan Witz that I admire is that first and foremost, he considers himself a realist painter.  Witz has mentioned in interviews that he has studied old master painting techniques, and I see the influence of Baroque painting in his visual style.   He has a definite interest in playing with light and shadow and it is reflected even in the posing of some of his figures.  Even though Witz uses digital aides like Photoshop in many of his more recent works (including this series) he recognizes that there is an intangible quality that is unique to painting, a vulnerable, handmade quality that cannot be reproduced by photographs or digital media and that can only be experienced by seeing a painting in person (be that venue an alley or a gallery).

There were a lot of standout pieces in the “What the %$#@?” show but the one that resonated most with me was one titled “John Homeless Hoodie”, a 17in X 27in, mixed media piece depicting, through a grated window, the upper half of a man in a hoodie lying on his back with his eyes closed.  While many of the other pieces in the show were funny, shocking or unexpected, this piece was subtle and really drew my attention.  The positioning of the figure reminded me of an art historical archetype known as an entombment scene (what out, dropping some art history knowledge in this bitch!).  Throughout history, many artists have used this visual convention to subtly suggest that the viewer take a moment to contemplate issues surrounding the life and death of the figure before them.  For a moment, that is exactly what this piece did for me.

I have to make one critique of the show.  As much as I enjoyed seeing these pieces up close in the comfortable, indoor space at White Walls, I think showing these particular artworks in a controlled gallery space took away some of their power.  A major component of his work is the reaction that people have when they see his work when they were not expecting it (Imagine walking by a normal window on your way to work, you peer in and see a pair of hands reaching out at you – tell me that doesn’t make an impression!)  I think Witz is usually very good at creating different art works in his distinct visual style for different venues, for instance he has a series of hyper-realistic mosh pit paintings that would be amazing in a gallery setting.  But in this case, I think these pieces would have been absolutely brilliant outside; contextually indoors, they just didn’t do it for me.  The good news is, Dan Witz also placed several of these works out side around San Francisco during his trip last week.  If you happen to come across any of these pieces, leave a comment below and share the location so other fans can check them out.

Definitely checkout Dan Witz’ Show “What the %$#@? (WTF)” which will be on view until February 5th, 2011 at White Walls Gallery located at 835 Larkin St, San Francisco.  Check out the gallery’s website for hours: http://www.whitewallssf.com/

Dan Witz also has a book out title In Plain View, for more information about the book and the artist, check out his website: http://www.danwitz.com/

by Maggie Pike for Warholian.com

(In addition to writing for Warholian, Maggie Pike also runs the website Gone Tomorrow SF which covers the world of San Francisco Street Art. Check it out here: http://GoneTomorrowSF.com )