Tim Hans shoots… Dan Witz

March 31st, 2014 | By | No Comments »

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Dan Witz is one of the original New York street artists, with almost 35 years of experience getting up. He’s also one of my favorite realist painters and pranksters. If you want to see some of Dan’s work in person, he’s got a solo show opening this week at Jonathan Levine Gallery‘s 529 West 20th Street space in New York City. Tim Hans met Dan at his studio for the latest in our continuing series of photo-portraits of artists by Tim. I asked Dan a few questions over email.

RJ: What’s the best prank (involving art or not) that you’ve ever pulled?

Dan Witz: Hmm-best? Hard to say: I mean most of my street stuff over the past 35 years could be described as pranks. I wouldn’t want to single out a winner, but probably the one that consistently gets the most ‘likes’ out of all my one-off pieces would be the clown face house in Brooklyn.

RJ: How did your work with Amnesty International come about and what keeps you working with them?

DW: They got in touch with me. Or, actually, an ad agency that was handling them in Germany reached out to me. Like most street artists I get a lot of e-mail probes from marketing types eager to link their product or cause with urban art. It’s been pretty easy for me to avoid this because my stuff works much better if I keep my identity, or “brand” as much under the radar as possible. When Amnesty International got in touch though, I was so honored and such a long-time supporter of theirs that I was willing to consider it. And I’d already been working with figures trapped behind grates in my WHAT THE %$#@? (WTF) series, so advocating for illegally detained prisoners was an easy fit.

I am so incredibly glad I opened up to this. The 20 or so Wailing Wall pieces in Frankfurt became one of the peak experiences of my career. Oddly, even with all the media frenzy (and the accompanying police attention) there was no pressure on me to compromise my normally aggressive installation tactics (these days, to avoid easy theft I anchor my grate pieces into the wall, which involves serious industrial adhesives and a hammer drill). It turns out that Amnesty international, despite its mainstream respectability, is a surprisingly bad-ass organization. They recognized that my methods, although illegal, were the most effective way to galvanize public attention. If anything they even pushed me to go larger and bolder than I usually do. I date a huge growth in my street practice to that first Amnesty project.

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RJ: Whose artwork hangs in your home and why?

DW: There’s a rotating selection of friends’ work, a few copies of old master paintings I’ve done, (in gold frames, which really class the place up), and the usual magnetized refrigerator masterpieces from our two year old. I have to say, I’ve really been enjoying fooling around with the non-toxic kiddie art supplies. Don’t look for a new Crayola series from me or anything, but it’s reminded me how great it is to draw just for the fun of it

RJ: The kitschy artist Thomas Kinkade called himself a “painter of light,” but that description is probably more appropriate for you. What fascinates you about light in paintings?

DW: Didn’t that guy copyright or trademark the “Painter of Light” thing? And isn’t he like the best selling artist, ever? I’ve never seen one in real life but I bet they have a nice heartwarming glow. To be honest, not to put him down, but simulating light with oil paint isn’t really that hard to do. And yeah, like him (I’m guessing) I’ve never gotten over what a miracle it is. It’s magic. And addictive. Same for me with creating trompe l’oeil illusions of space. I never get sick of it. I guess I should be grateful to artists like Kinkade: if it wasn’t for them I might forget how easily these effects can turn into clichés.

RJ: What are you working on at the moment?

DW: As usual I’ve got a few projects simultaneously dead-lining in my studio. Right now, on easel one I’m preparing this summer’s street art; and easel two has my ongoing Mosh pit painting series. Most days I bounce back and forth—I get sick of one and take refuge in the other. But in a few weeks  I’ve got a show, NY Hardcore, opening at Jonathan Levine Gallery so we’re frantically varnishing and framing and e-mailing and packing. Fortunately my studio has a separate ‘dirty’ room in the garage downstairs so I can spray and do woodwork without endangering the artworks and my family’s health. But it’s out of control over here. Which used to be an unbearably stressful way to live, but I’ve gotten used to it, and sometimes (like now, answering these questions) I even get a brief moment to step back and appreciate how lucky I am to be so busy and have all this crazy shit going on.

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Photos by Tim Hans


Category: Featured Posts, Interview, Portraits by Tim Hans | Tags: , ,

Pose and Revok in NYC: on the Bowery, at Jonathan LeVine and in Bushwick, Brooklyn

July 19th, 2013 | By | 1 Comment »
Pose and Revok on the famed Bowery and Houston wall

Pose and Revok on the famed Bowery and Houston wall

With their vigorous, brightly-hued fusion of pop imagery, comic art and graffiti elements, Pose and Revok, along with support from other MSK crew members, have fashioned — perhaps — the most dynamic mural to ever grace the famed Bowery and Houston wall. Along with their current exhibit, Uphill Both Ways at the Jonathan LeVine Gallery, their artwork is a testament to graffiti’s ongoing evolution and vitality.

Pose, Fin 2, acrylic and spray paint on clayboard panel

Pose, Fin 2, acrylic and spray paint on clayboard panel

Pose, Dude2, acrylic and spray paint on clayboard panel

Pose, Dude 2, acrylic and spray paint on clayboard panel

Revok, 3652 Canfield, acrylic, enamel and found objects on panel

Revok, 3652 Canfield, acrylic, enamel and found objects on panel

Revok, 301 Petoskey, acrylic, enamel and found objects on panel

Revok, 301 Petoskey, acrylic, enamel and found objects on panel

And in their tribute to the legendary Nekst and to the true spirit of graffiti, the two have, also, left their mark on the streets of Bushwick, Brooklyn:

Revok tribute to Nekst

Revok tribute to Nekst

Pose tribute to Nekst

Pose tribute to Nekst

Photos by Dani Mozeson, Tara Murray and Lois Stavsky


Category: Art News, Gallery/Museum Shows, Photos | Tags: , , ,

Olek: Becoming One’s Art for “The End Is Far”

March 12th, 2013 | By | No Comments »

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For Olek, the past year has seen endless legal battles in London, which led to a brief incarceration and house arrest. During this time, it must have seemed as if a long road was ahead of her. The majority of the work on display at her recently opened show at Jonathan Levine Gallery was made during this time in London, when the end was indeed far. However, don’t let the image of Olek crocheting away in a cell paint a disparate image of the installations that the artist created during this time in her life. The spectacle that one has come to expect from energetic and vibrant artist has only intensified. The speakers have been turned up to 11, if you will.

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The entrance to Olek’s work hinted at the pageantry that would unfold in her exhibition upstairs. Harkening to her court trail, the artist has used her recent text-based body of work to draw upon these experiences. An anonymous figure, perhaps representing the everywoman, carries a flag with the empowering phrase “nobody can hurt me without my permission.” The ominous tone set in the entryway distinctly contrasted the whimsical tone set by her performers in the gallery space. Read the rest of this article »


Category: Featured Posts, Gallery/Museum Shows | Tags: ,

Weekend link-o-rama

February 23rd, 2013 | By | No Comments »

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As I tweeted the other day, my mind is kinda stuck on how much I wish the Parra show at Jonathan Levine Gallery opened today and not on Saturday so that I could go see it. So while I’ve been distracted by that point, here’s some of what I almost missed this week:

  • KATSU’s April Fools prank is a bit early, but still pretty funny.
  • The Outsiders / Lazarides has some really nice prints by Ron English. They are variations on his Figment image, aka Andy Warhol wig and a skull.
  • Barry McGee, Chris Johanson and Laurie Reid are showing together at City College and SF starting today.
  • Here’s a new piece from the always-interesting 0331c, but if you don’t know 0331c’s work, here’s an introduction.
  • Nice video of Eine updating one of his walls in London from saying PRO PRO PRO to PROTAGONIST. Interesting comment about street art being a thing that “looked like it would offer what graffiti promised but didn’t deliver.”
  • Nychos x Jeff Soto = Yes!
  • New work from Isaac Cordal.
  • Woah. Nice work from How and Nosm in San Fransisco.
  • Jonathan Jones is up to his old tricks of dissing Banksy to get more hits for his column, and I’m biting. He writes, “Banksy, as an artist, stops existing when there is no news about him.” Even if that is the case, is that the end of the world? Does that relegate Banksy to “art-lite”? No. Banksy is one of the most talked-about artists in the world. I would bet that the same criticism was leveled against Warhol, who I believe Jones likes. Banksy’s manipulation of the media, playing it like a damn violin sometimes, is some of his greatest artwork of all. He manipulates the media to spread a message. The best example of this was probably him going to Bethlehem to paint on the separation wall because he knew that the media would cover it. He was able to play the media to draw attention to an issue that he felt strongly about. Banksy’s paintings are sometimes great and sometimes not. But his ability to make people fascinated with him and his paintings is just as much of an art, and that shouldn’t discredit him.

Photo by Luna Park


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How and Nosm’s upcoming pop-up show in NYC

January 30th, 2013 | By | 1 Comment »

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How and Nosm have a show opening this week with Jonathan Levine Gallery in NYC, but not at the gallery’s usual location. The duo’s Late Confessions show opens this Friday evening (7-9pm) at 557 W 23rd Street in Chelsea. Caroline and I stopped by the show over the weekend for a preview and were both very impressed. I’ll have to go back at some point to look at everything properly, but it seems to be some of the best work I’ve seen from How and Nosm to date.

Sometimes the extreme detail and intricate layering of complex visuals in How and Nosm’s artwork is a bit too much for me. I just can’t follow everything. In those cases, I feel like I’m seeing too much at once, and my brain just shuts down to the point where I see and understand nothing rather than at least part of the whole. I know that many people get a very different experience, and the qualities that I’m describing are exactly why they love How and Nosm’s work so much. Those fans need not worry. There’s plenty for them at Late Confessions. But for people like me who can reach a point of sensory overload with the complex pieces and long for something easier to follow, How and Nosm also have a good number of simpler-to-read works in the show. The artists took a risk with that decision. The simple works could have fallen flat and exposed a hollowness masked by the more complex works, but instead, I think the simpler works are some of the best paintings at Late Confessions. They are visually engaging on their own, and in a wider context, they helped me to better-understand the worlds that How and Nosm develop in their more chaotic paintings.

Late Confessions opens on February 1st from 7-9pm and runs through February 23rd at 557 W 23rd Street, New York City.

Photo courtesy of Jonathan Levine Gallery


Category: Gallery/Museum Shows | Tags: ,

Weekend link-o-rama

January 6th, 2013 | By | No Comments »

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Okay Christmas and new years are over. Let’s get back to real life.

Photo by Jake Dobkin


Category: Art Fairs, Festivals, Gallery/Museum Shows, Photos, Random, Videos | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

DALeast’s hauntingly beautiful creatures at Jonathan LeVine

December 12th, 2012 | By | No Comments »
Osteoplasty

Osteoplasty

Working with ink, acrylic and tea on canvas, South Africa-based artist DALeast has created a wondrous menagerie of hauntingly beautiful animals in Powder of Light, his first solo exhibit in NYC. The somewhat curious scientific titles of these pieces on exhibit at Jonathan LeVine add a material dimension to their spiritual essence. Here are a few more favorites:

Ombrophobia

Ombrophobia

Oneirophrenia

Oneirophrenia

Osmology II.

Osmology II.

Opacification

Opacification

Orthotonus

Orthotonus

The exhibit continues through December 29th at 529 W. 20th Street in Manhattan’s Chelsea gallery district.

Photos by Lenny Collado


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Weekend link-o-rama

December 1st, 2012 | By | No Comments »

Anthony Lister in London

It’s almost December, and this December I’m going to be taking a bit of a holiday. For most of the month, Caroline Caldwell is going to be doing most of the writing for Vandalog, while I focus on another project. But, of course, the more important thing about it being almost December is that it means Basel Miami craziness is about to be upon us. Some artists are already in Miami (specifically Wynwood) and painting their murals. Not to piss all over that parade, but I’d like to quote Workhorse of The Underbelly Project. He once said to me, “It’s sorta sad that an entire district of 7-story-tall murals is becoming blasé, but it is.”

Photo by Alex Ellison


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Speaking with Chelsea gallerist Jonathan LeVine

September 12th, 2012 | By | No Comments »

I’d always wondered about Jonathan LeVine, the self-described owner, proprietor, and head honcho of one of my favorite galleries anywhere. Curious about the roots of his passion, vision and success, I recently read Caleb Neelon’s 2011 book, Delusional: The Story of the Jonathan LeVine Gallery. Providing an intimate glimpse into not only the gallery, but into Jonathan LeVine himself, Neelon’s book, brilliantly introduced by Carlo McCormick, also features dozens of wondrous images and reminiscences by a range of artists whose work LeVine has exhibited.

After reading the book, I had the opportunity to meet up with Jonathan and speak with him:

It’s wonderful to have someone with your passion and aesthetic sensibility sharing and promoting the art we love in a gallery in the heart of the art world. What motivated you to bring your vision and business to the Chelsea art district?

I chose New York City because it is the best platform for artists’ works to be seen. It is also the best setting to encourage artists to reach the highest level possible. An artist needs to be seen in a gallery that’s in the epicenter of it all to gain recognition and be taken seriously in the art world. That is the only reason why I’m here. If another city were as important to the success of an artist, I’d be there.

According to Delusional – the Story of the Jonathan LeVine Gallery, you were initially friends with many of the artists whose works you promote in your everyday ventures. You would also just pick up a phone and call anyone whose work spoke to you. Is that still the case? How do you consistently find and feature the work of so many first-rate artists?

It’s mostly the Internet these days.  The blogs out there – like Arrested Motion and High Fructose — make it easier for me. But I still check out bookstores. I read magazines, and I speak to people. I also look at art that is referred to me.

How did you manage to establish a collector base strong enough to support your wonderful space?

It’s a slow process. I’ve been at this for 17 years. After curating downtown in the 90’s, I opened a spot in New Hope, PA and then moved to Philly before coming here. I’ve been fortunate to attract such preeminent collectors as Nike CEO Mark Parker who began purchasing artworks from my Philly space and has continued to do so. And I aggressively use the Internet to promote business.

You describe your initial curating ventures as an “addiction” that you couldn’t walk away from. Is that still the case? How do you keep from “burning out?”

Yes, it’s still the case. I see my work as my calling. I couldn’t walk away from it even if I wanted to. I’m married to it and I often tend to take on too much. But to avoid burnout I do take necessary breaks. I travel when I can, and I always try to get sufficient sleep. I also maintain a sense of humor.

Much of the work your gallery features is rooted in pop culture, blurring the lines between pop surrealism, illustration, graphic design and fine arts. Included, too, are works by artists whose main canvas is the streets. Have you any favorite genre? Which artists – in particular – speak to you?

I love them all. I don’t like drawing distinctions among genres. I only feature artwork that I love. I see it all as contemporary art, but for lack of a more distinct term, I came up with the label, “pop pluralism.”

It was your “Streets of São Paulo” exhibit that not only introduced me to your gallery, but moved me to visit São Paulo and explore its streets. How did that come to happen?

I had come across the book Graffiti Brazil by Tristan Manco and Caleb Neelon. I was taken by the raw beauty of the Brazilian street art featured in the book, as it is quite different from what I’d seen elsewhere. I also thought it was important. I decided to visit São Paulo, and that was the first of many trips there and an ongoing relationship with São Paulo’s Choque Cultural Gallery.

What was your most memorable experience since moving your business to NYC? 

My visit to São Paulo was my most moving experience, as it was life-changing. A particular moment that stands out here in NYC involves a Shepard Fairey show that I curated back in 2007. Shepard had installed work in a space in DUMBO, Brooklyn for the opening party. I didn’t know what kind of turn-out to expect. I’ll never forget seeing a line that stretched around the block of folks waiting to gain entry to this opening event.

In his intro to Caleb Neelon’s book, Delusional – the Story of the Jonathan LeVine Gallery, the noted art critic Carlo McCormick describes you as both charming and candid! That’s a hard act! How do you manage it — as everyone seems to speak well of you!

That’s good to know! I’m a Northeasterner — honest and straightforward. I suppose that’s how I manage it. I don’t understand greed and selfishness. I have a strong work ethic that is driven by a sound morality. And I don’t compromise.

What is your greatest challenge – as there are certain to be many?

Yes, managing others — getting people to do what I want them to do – is, perhaps, the greatest challenge. And dealing with a range of personalities – involving other people’s issues, along with my own – demands extraordinary skills and patience. Conflict-management is a huge part of my job.

How have other Chelsea art dealers responded to your presence here?

At first, there was a great deal of curiosity. They seemed to be wondering, “Who is this kid?” But their question was answered when they saw me selling art.

How would you define your professional goals?

I would like my gallery to continue to grow and for the art that I exhibit to increasingly gain recognition and respect. I’d like to be a modern version of the late Leo Castelli, the influential New York art dealer who played such a huge role in promoting the works of so many groundbreaking artists.

 I meet so many folks in their 20’s who would love to be “the next Jonathan LeVine!” What advice can you offer them?

I don’t think I would recommend this line of work. It is difficult and carries a huge amount of responsibilities and pressures. I would not have chosen to be an art dealer. Folks often make assumptions about me based on my name and the kinds of people who tend to work in this field. But I was raised by a single Italian mother, and we struggled. School was always a challenge, and I disliked it. But when I found my calling, I answered it with passion, perseverance and patience. I view what I am doing as a service to others. I would advise anyone who is interested in this field to acquire basic business – as well as art – knowledge, read extensively and develop a huge network. This is not an easy business! It is demanding and challenging, and it requires tremendous resourcefulness.

What’s ahead?

I’d like the Jonathan LeVine Gallery to become one of New York City’s big blue chip galleries and gain an international presence. I’d also eventually like to have a huge storefront. That would be my next move.

Photos courtesy of the Jonathan LeVine Gallery


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Interview: Jeff Soto

August 30th, 2012 | By | 2 Comments »


Jeff Soto will be opening his fourth solo show at Jonathan LeVine Gallery on September 8th, alongside the simultaneous solo shows of Audrey Kawasaki and Judith Supine. The show, entitled Decay and Overgrowth, explores life, death and the passage of time. In this interview, Soto tells Vandalog about the emotional journey this past year has taken him on, including the death of two of his grandparents, and how these events provoked his consideration of mortality; which would become a central theme of this show. 

V: In your own words, can you tell us about the underlying themes of Decay and Overgrowth?
JS: I started researching my ancestry about seven years ago, well, even before that really. As a kid I knew my grandparents fought in WWII and my grandma would list off all the things we had in us- Irish, Italian, Sioux, Dutch, etc.. These stories were interesting to me. So from an early age I was aware that there is some history there, and at some point a teacher I had showed us family trees. When I was a teenager I saw Norman Rockwell’s family tree painting where the kid’s ancestors were pirates and Native Americans and cowboys. It got me interested in who my ancestors were, and how all my living relatives were related.
The last few years I have researched and got deeper into who these people were. Decay and Overgrowth comes out of this research. Finding all these relatives really drove home the point that we are born, we have kids, get married, live our life and die. And then the kids repeat the same pattern. Our offspring who come into the world like new flowers, growing and flourishing, eventually meet the same fate as any other living thing. We start aging, and at some point we all will die. We turn to dust, go back into the Earth to nourish it, and then the cycle repeats. I don’t see it as morbid at all, and I hope the paintings don’t seem too death obsessed! Even though I’ve unofficially titled my show “The Skull Show”.

V: This is a solo show, but you’re showing at the same time as Audrey Kawasaki’s and Judith Supine’s solo shows. How do you feel like this combination of works either compliment or juxtapose one another?
JS: I respect both of them. I know Audrey a bit but have never met Judith. I think as a whole our work is very different but individually we’re each very strong in what we do. Should be a fun show with something for everyone. I am predicting a large turnout.

V: Was this exploration of mortality more of a catharsis for you or a way of explaining death to your children?
JS: It’s more for me I guess. They’re too young to fully understand death. We do not hide it from them at all, you know, like if one of our fish dies or we find a dead rabbit on a walk, we talk about it. Two of my grandparents passed away in the last year, and they went to the funerals even though they’re young. I never really thought about death because it was not around me. Or maybe it’s an age thing- now that I’m in my mid/late 30′s and I have two kids that depend on me, it’s on my mind. Seeing my little brothers grow up and my parents age has been a trip.

V: What do you think your generation adds to the collective human experience?
JS: I think it’s too early to say. There’s good and bad things we’re going to add. I know that my generation seems more open to cultural differences among people. In the United States, overall we’re less racist than 40 years ago, and I think the next generation will be better than us. There’s still a long way to go but the situation is improving from the Baby Boomers and previous generations.
And of course the internet has made huge changes. For the first time in human history information is easily accessible to most people. It is empowering. Maybe it’s homogenizing us as well. It’s that whole globalization thing, we all buy the same products, listen to the same music and watch the same movies- are cultural differences starting to die out? Technology is good and bad I think. I’m 37, so I grew up with Atari which was fun, but only for about 30 minutes then we’d go outside and build a fort, climb a tree, make up a game… we used our imagination! I think that’s lacking in many kids and I wonder how it will change things. Maybe it already has. I graduated high school right as the internet was going mainstream- 1993. Our school had one computer that was online and the only thing we could access was college libraries in town. We had to search and hunt for our info, we had to go downtown and pour through a ton of books and along the way we would find other interesting books and much more thoroughly researched information. Now all the info is easily and quickly accessed in a nice little five paragraph web page. I do love Wikipedia, but 20 years ago you’d read a 300 page book on say, Cortés, now a kid in high school will read a concise web page on the iPad.  Maybe that’s not so bad, I guess the Wiki entry would have much more up to date info… see, technology that this generation is bringing is both good and bad.

Read the rest of this article »


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