Street Talk: Chris Daze Ellis in Dialogue with the Collection
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A member of the so-called “second generation” of New York graffiti artists, Chris Ellis—best known by his street name, Daze—has been hailed one of the most important ‘writers’ of his time. Daze began his career in graffiti as a youth, tagging subway cars alongside Crash, Seen, Lady Pink, and Futura. Most importantly, though, Daze has been one of the most successful graffiti writers of his generation to transition from street to studio. In the artist’s own words, “doing paintings was an experiment…. When I did my first cars, every day the graffito became a bigger part of my world. And then there was a logical evolution…. I took the canvas as a new medium for expression, beginning to concentrate on the form and on its development.” After his oil-on-canvas realist dreamscapes of the 1990s, Daze has returned, in part, to his original vocabulary.
With <i>Life in the Fast Lane</i>, Daze brings aspects of the 1980s vibrancy and exaggerated distortion of street graffiti back to life. The one-point perspective he uses to capture this cityscape is not only a nod to historical painting traditions, but also, combined with the speeding streaks of motion, a way of conveying the character of New York City street life and—perhaps—a reference to the origins of graffiti on the city’s subway cars. The distinct qualities of a spray-painted line can be found on the yellow taxi, which, notably, is the only instance of color in the composition, much like the writers’ initial intention of adding color to the otherwise drab cityscape. In contrast, the rectangular insert in the middle ground is executed in oil paint in a thoroughly calculated manner. Actually a picture within a picture, the center image is set within swirling clouds of acrylic paint in the sky and foreground. Both layers feature white and black tones, representative of intense light and darkness, and, at the same time, symbolic of the grayness of the cement metropolis. As curator Maurizio Vanni notes, “in the creation of his canvases, Daze has continued to use the quintessential tool of the graffiti artists: spray paint” allowing for the preservation of the stroke’s spontaneity, without losing the nature of the initial message. “He uses the spray in combination with other materials (oil paint, for example) producing extremely interesting results and experiments.”
Daze was the Addison’s spring 2014 Edward E. Elson Artist in Residence.
Charles H. Sawyer Curatorial Assistant | Librarian | Archivist
This object was included in the following exhibitions:Street Talk: Chris Daze Ellis in Dialogue with the Collection, Addison Gallery of American Art, 5/3/2014 - 7/31/2014
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