Dan Witz – Mosh Pit Paintings (2010 – 2018) at StolenSpace, East London – Moments frozen, a split second captured, almost peaceful when you know it really wasn’t peaceful in the heat of those punk rock pits. These are proper pits, hardcore pits, they’re almost violent places, beautiful places, fast moving places, there for the rush of it all, primordial, the blur, the blows, the trust in those strangers around you. Dan Witz captures that in his frozen moment, these are paintings that are tuned in with that punk rock time and place, that New York inspired hardcore scene – “with a career going on almost four decades, Witz’ gritty, punk-fueled paintings conceal an intimate understanding of the human condition. His earliest artistic enterprises on the streets of 1970s New York were founded on the belief that art was necessary, not only to challenge, but to change the dominant systems of society. Though often subtle in their execution, Witz’ works on the street are no less hard-hitting than his graffiti counterparts. Meticulous in their realism, yet subversive in their subject matter, they are made to cause uncertainty and to encourage viewers to question those aspects of daily life that they consistently take for granted. It is this challenge to accepted norms that makes Witz’ work so profound”.
The paintings here are going for that “hyper realistic” thing, most of the time I really don’t get that excited by the whole hyper-realistic thing, it somehow bypasses the passion of paint, the moving of paint around a canvas, the energy of a “mistake” or a risk taken, but there’s something here in his “acclaimed mosh pit series”, those “seize moments”, there’s something here that works so so well. That intensity that Witz has put his finger on, that frozen moment, that tension that builds in a packed pit when things are really really connecting, that “beautiful chaos” he talks of.
“Working from photographs he takes at live events, Witz employs artistic techniques that date back to the old masters, in order to render scenes of the most magnificent clarity and depth. Witz reveals that despite the obvious aggression of the punk rock pit, there is also an underlying sense of euphoria and unification shared amidst the crowd”, you do kind of wonder what he might do if he didn’t work quite so faithfully with those photos he takes – hardcore mosh pits, real hardcore pits, are a blur most of the time, bits of bodies you catch out of the corner of your eye, those blows to the body then don’t hurt because you’re lost in the moment, in the music, the blur of the energy, in his own way though he’s captured it all in his frozen moments .
“I’m an academic realist painter, but I’m living in the 21st century, so I’m not going to be painting Roman soldiers invading, or some gothic baroque composition…The highest aspiration of an academic realist painter are these big group figure paintings, and I’m using the hardcore scene as my subject.” – Dan Witz, 2016.
Is there anything here that a camera couldn’t convey though? Impressive it is, realistic it is, frozen moments, hyperreal and photo-like and yes he can be compared with those grandiose painters who captured moments of an 18th century battles, a Caravaggio thing maybe, and yes, this is another impressive show in the beautiful StolenSpace back room (I’m still re-running those brilliant Seen paintings from the end of last year in my head, this back room is such a fine place to few good art). Is there anything here that a camera couldn’t convey though? That frozen moment picked out, that painterly highlight that isn’t there with a camera? That thing the darkness and the lighting of a venue doesn’t allow you to capture in any other way that by painting it? Witz is almost like a wildlife painter who conveys the things in the darkness that the camera couldn’t quite capture. There’s something in the humanity as well as in the humanity of the paint, his paint, something about the medium being the message and that by painting these things rather than merely photographing them he’s emphasizing the importance of these events, this coming together of humanity in such a positive way. A mosh pit is something very special, something to be celebrated, that coming together of complete strangers, that trust, that sharing, it deserves to be painted as reverentially as Witz has, Is there anything here that a camera couldn’t convey, yes, of course there is and as someone who has spent many an hour in a pit I really want to thank him for painting what so easily could have just been photographed, those pits really did deserve to be painted with this intense passion. (sw)
StolenSpace is at 17 Osborn Street, London, E1 6TD. The show runs until February 25th.
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