Updated: Apr 20, 2020
When I first saw Dan Witz’s mosh pit paintings I was immediately struck with nostalgia as I remembered all of the hardcore shows I grew up going to. Witz’s ability to capture every quality of that crowd is so incredible. The action, the movement, the expression of every single character as they spastically move to gain their space in the crowd, it’s all there and it’s masterfully captured. His work was a perfect combination of two of my favorite things, wild shows and painting, so he instantly became one of my favorite painters. But when I dove deeper into his work, I quickly found out that there was a whole lot more than mosh pit paintings that would bring me to follow his work for years to come.
Witz has an amazing touch and his ability to display action and emotion in his painting is so impressive, but some of the first works I noticed past his mosh pit paintings were devoid of this action and it was just as striking. Witz has painted a variety of crowds and they all come with their own feel. His 2016 painting, I Feel, always jumps out as a shift because unlike the mosh pit paintings where every figure seems to lead right into the next, these characters seem completely individual. There’s an inherent rhythm to the mosh pit paintings because every character is moving to the same beat, in the same direction, only stopping if they bounce off one another, but in this painting every character seems to be experiencing the space differently. Witz captures so many different emotions, movements, and reactions to the space in this piece and it’s a refreshing difference.
Now his crowd paintings are incredible, in all of their varieties, but he does far more than that. Another thing that caught my attention when going through his body of work was his ability to capture the soft glow of light in a dark space. He at one point did a beautiful series of lamp paintings, but what really drew me to this aspect of his work was a series of portraits that he did where the figure was lit only by their cell phone. The technical ability that goes into managing lights, darks, and all of the subtle in betweens in something like this is jaw dropping. The way that he captures the soft glow that gently reveals the character is so brilliant. Even further, while I’m usually not a big concept guy, the idea of young people existing in a dark space being lit only by their phone, the universal information and sometimes misinformation feeder, is a really thoughtful and fascinating display..
But while all of his canvas work is great, I’d kick myself if I talked about Dan Witz and didn’t talk about his amazing take on street art. When I think street art, I usually think graffiti or quick, graphic imagery, but not with Witz. A hyper-realist in the gallery and on the streets, he applies small paintings to surfaces, transforming them from walls to windows into some pretty haunting places. Whether it’s hands reaching through a grate, a prisoner behind a cage, or the windows into animal abuse that Witz made for PETA UK, he takes ordinary flat surfaces and transforms them into a deep space. While these paintings are really striking, and have the ability to jump right at you, they’re unlike most street art in that they’re very subtle. You could walk past a Witz every day without meeting the gaze of the eyes looking through the door of the electrical box. They don’t demand to be seen, but once you see them they demand your attention.
I could ramble on and on about how amazing the work of Dan Witz is and while it feels like I’ve talked about a lot, I’m really only scratching the surface of his vast body of work. I’ve always been someone who respects a diverse portfolio, especially in representational work, which is why Witz has been one of my favorites for years.