Dan Witz: Prisoners 2012-13 at Lazarides Gallery

brent jumpsuit 50x40 2012 flat_low

Dan Witz has been in the street art ‘business’ since street art began in the seventies – he’s a master of his genre. But, from that introduction, what you find at Lazarides (Rathbone Place) is more Old Master than you might expect. That is: finely layered oil paints that build up soft-to-the-touch illusionistic paintings. Subtle in touch, subdued in tone, but stark in their reality.

This paradigm – of technique and subject matter – is strongest in the Prison Series, where the resulting paintings are truly bitter sweet. The Prison paintings are a set of uncomfortably naturalistic portraits, which have been made in conjunction with Amnesty International, of eight known figures: maimed, blindfolded, pushed into a corner, masked, clothed in prison robes, and screaming for help. Ominous because of the truth they tell, and ominous because of their tangible depiction – their looming, tortured presences takes the viewer by surprise. This was the artist’s intention – that the figure (not the painting), would take the viewer aback.

The brushwork is stunning – diffused. On closer inspection, background spaces (which at a quick glance could appear like dampened nothingness), is dabbled with mottled colour. In the case of Ruth Baghead, this space is a fiery copper. The touch is sensitive, as is the artist sympathetic – the two combine neatly.

In each painting in the series, there is a deliberate focus in which the light channels the eye to a pure white, (none bolder than that which makes Ruth voiceless in Ruth Baghead and the Ku Klux Klan style mask that disguises Tony Hooded); or statement red, such is the case in stern portrait Brent Jumpsuit. Where, in these studio pieces, the prison space is less defined visually, (as opposed to the literal bars that retain the hostages in the street art pieces), the play of light constructs a casing into which the wanting figures are cast by the effect of a simple shadow. The figure Ruth in Ruth Doorway, is leant up against a broadly-speaking perspective-less doorway – the doorway appears open, and her imprisonment thereby questionable. However, (besides from the fabric around her mouth that forbids her rescue cry), it is only the binding shadow that keeps her right leg from stepping out. Here the artist’s exploration with stark artificial lighting in his series of lamp paintings, is both evident and effective.

The Prisoners Series as exhibited at Lazarides this January and February, is the conclusion of a series of work – notably his project with Amnesty International which involved scattering unsuspecting city sights in Frankfurt with one of the eight prisoners Amnesty International have vowed to campaign for the rights of. These depicted detainees are pictured behind homemade grills that served as views into fictional prisons representing the actual prisons these people – from eight different countries – have been put in. The active result of these works is the ‘Wailing Wall’ – a virtual wall where people can write their hopes for justice as a means of supporting the campaign – which goes to show, if a message is communicated through fine craftsmanship as clearly as Dan is able to, art can be a powerful propagator.

The smaller proportion of the exhibition is crammed with yet more distressed figures, (this time self inflicted) in the form of Witz’s ongoing Mosh Pit Series. These are a smart set of gig-based scenes (well, except from 5 Ludlow perhaps which appears like either a raucous Dove Campaign; a bird’s eye view on an Yves Klein action painting, without paint; or a game of Twister at a nudist festival), which encapsulate the chaos of such environments but are executed with the clarity of brush and an elevated perspective. Dan renders textures and temperaments with finesse, especially in Bryonesque.

 

Dan Witz: Prisoners 2012-13, is at Lazarides Galleries, Rathbone Place (a group of galleries that specialises in Street Art, until 23rd February:

http://www.lazinc.com/exhibitions/579,dan-witz-prisoners-2012-13

 

 

Images: 1) Byronesque, by Dan Witz, 2012, oil and digital media on canvas, 101 x 147.5 cm. Image c/o the artist and Lazarides Galleries.

2) Brent Jumpsuit, by Dan Witz, 2012, oil and digital media on canvas, 127 x 101.5 cm. Image c/o the artist and Lazarides Galleries.

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