Fashion Moshing At Its Best
Dior Homme features artist Dan Witz’s iconic paintings in its latest collection.
It’s official. The main buzzword for 2017 is “collaboration”, especially in this digital-driven era where expanding “reach” is a top priority for labels. Dior Homme, for one, has embraced this “magic” formula, which has seen Artistic Director, Kris Van Assche, teaming up with visionaries in their field, including Japanese artist Toru Kamei, French painter François Bard, cult director Larry Clark and German audio brand Sennheiser. For this season, he sought out the services of American painter Dan Witz, who is known for his photo-realistic paintings. While it might seem a little, dare we say, predictable, Witz’s hyper-realistic mosh pit oil renditions breathe new life into coats, jackets, bags and all sorts of accessories from the Dior Homme collection. We speak to the Brooklyn-based painter about the significance of fashion and art collaborations.
"Big Mosh Pits", 2007, Dan Witz.
ESQUIRE: Tell us more about the collaboration with Dior Homme. How did it come about?
DAN WITZ: Kris Van Assche collects my work and he was interested in the mosh pit paintings. When I sent images of available pieces, he reached out to me about a collaboration. I was lukewarm about the idea at first, but after asking around, I heard great things about Dior—then we met and got along, and I became open to it.
ESQ: You were in a punk band before. How does that influence your work now?
DW: After I got out of art school, I played in post-punk type bands for most of my twenties. When I “retired” from music and went back to making art full-time, I was worried that painting would lack the same excitement as performing—that my life and work would become too “safe”—and I was worried that I’d lose my “edge” (I know this sounds cliché, but back then, this is how I thought). I’d always admired baroque art and thought all that energy could have a contemporary analogue. Crowds rioting at concerts seemed like a perfect solution. From start to finish, the whole process of producing these paintings turned out to be ridiculously challenging—which I guess satisfied my need to be living close to that edge.
"Big Mosh Pits", 2007, Dan Witz.
ESQ: There’s a great amount of realism in your work. What’s your painting process like?
DW: After recovering from photographing in the mosh pit, I spend weeks, or sometimes even months, puzzling together the compositions with Photoshop. Having an insomniac and obsessive-compulsive nature really comes in handy here. In comparison, the main event, the actual months-long battle with the painting is somewhat routine—or at least manageable in a one-day-at-a-time kind of way. I paint traditionally so each figure takes four or five layers from underpainting to final glazes. Depending on the number of figures, each canvas takes a minimum of several months to complete.
ESQ: Kris Van Assche called you one of the pioneers of street art. In your opinion, how has street art evolved over the years?
DW: One of the things that I love and find most enduring (and endearing) about street art is that it doesn’t have to be responsible to anyone or anything. No rules, no filter, no power-on-high. No guy like me holding forth on it with authority. That said, these days, to keep street art fresh for me, I’ve found myself pursuing projects that address social issues that I care about. Back in the late-’70s and the early ’80s, the mere idea of an art form that wasn’t for sale and couldn’t be owned was enough of a subversive subtext to satisfy me. But these days, with so many people doing street art, just putting something on the street isn’t as transgressive as it used to be. Activism seems like a logical development for an art form that exists in the public sphere.
Photographs by Virginia Arcado/Dior Homme Winter 17/18 Backstage
ESQ: Do you think digital is the next art medium?
DW: Last year, I taught a drawing class at my alma mater, Cooper Union, in New York. The students had some compelling ideas about what was wrong with the art world and a mysterious optimism about what the future would bring. To my surprise, it didn’t involve social media, or VR, or the powerful image machines that we carry around in our pockets. Past that, all future talk became vague, as if they weren’t ready to release whatever new paradigms they were beta testing. I understood their wariness. I remembered when I was a student there, and trying to explain how an un-marketable, un-ownable, non-commodity like street art was such a healthy alternative to the failing, elitist art world that everyone was so anxious to be a part of. So, I guess that’s a long way of saying, I don’t know.
ESQ: How do you feel about your work being part of the fashion world now?
DW: The whole fashion show weekend in Paris was ridiculously surreal—even for me. But when all that was said and done, I have to say I was pleasantly surprised at how cool the clothes were. These couture people are incredible artists. I totally approved of all their choices, from the draping and the muted colour palette to the scale. Even the sequinned suit worked really well. But yeah, it rated as totally one of the weirdest experiences that I’ve ever had.
ESQ: What do you think is the relevancy of your work to fashion?
DW: I’m not sure about fashion in general, but with Dior, we seem to share similar objectives: an obsessive attention to craft, a respect for tradition, and a desire to leverage our art into something that is culturally challenging.