For many artists from the train era of New York City graff; there appears to be a proverbial spell over their creative abilities. Even present day, the white wash by Mayor Koch has cast a reminicient shadow over the essense of urban art. While those who have survived the buff continue to push their lettering to new heights; only a handful of artists have taken an all-city reputation and translated that into international recognition as an artist. In my own personal opinion; Christopher “Daze” Ellis is in a class of his own regarding his artistic career.
Yes, Christopher bombed trains with the best of them during his youth—and yes, that element of his history has stayed with him through the years. However, it is also true that graffiti is not even half the story when it comes to the self-expression that drives his progression as an artist. Daze’s work has evolved from mastering lettering with perspective on trains as a teenager to mastering the perspective of trains on canvas with elements of lettering woven into his unique urban touch. Along with that evolution as an artist, he has managed to stay true to himself with what inspires him to create. This is just one drop in the bucket of factors that contribute to the art-world’s appreciation of his work. Author Jonathan Drexler had the fortune of spending time with him in his studio as prepares for an upcoming solo exhibit in Paris at Galerie Brugier-Rigail opening on the 27th of April, 2017. Here is his vantage point on how the show came together.
“The title on my upcoming show is ‘Small Paintings’. While all of the canvases are smaller than some of the works that I am known for; there is signifance and meaning for all of the canvases that will be featured in this show with a pop-up feel. In order to understand the work in this show; I think it is important to keep in mind how it came together.Two years ago, I had a residency at the Villa Lena in Tuscany, Italy. That residency would end with a feature of my larger works on canvas created during my time there. Each morning, as an artistic excersize before approaching the larger scale paintings I would warm up by working on similar themed urban works that I painted on smaller canases. This continued for a few months as I worked toward the end of that residency. I would finish a smaller scale painting and put it aside after gathering inspiration for the large scale works
For me at the time, it was a way to pull some inspiration and stay fresh. I had no thought of how it would turn out a few years down the road because I was really just creating as a way to ready myself for those large works. What people can expect to see with this pop up exhibitation is small studio works–incorporated with iconography as a subway painter combined with different representational things that I am doing now. Of course some of the work has bits and pieces of lettering and graffiti elements, but the combined works are really things that inspire me personally. I aspire to capture fleeting moments in my work.
My paintings to this day still maintain an urban feel, that has a lot to do with the fact that I draw inspiration with where I am from. I sometimes go for walks in the neibhorhoods I find myslef in to find inspiration. That is how I manage to keep my subject matter as urban. However, I do not stay there—I look at the people and observe the colors around me because that lends itself to the life in my work. It helps keep life interesting when I can pull an image or idea from my surroundings—I did that while I was in my residency and I feel that it shows in my work. I had a certain fondness for New York while I was away and I think you can see it in the make-up of these canvases during this show, ‘Small Paintings’. Years ago, I was one of the first graffiti artists to be featured in Paris. In a way, it is kind of a homecoming for me right now because this will be my first time back.
I am excited to go back now and see how the scene has changed. When I first started getting features, an urban style of painting was not as widely accepted as an art form as it is today. So, I personally took that challenge and pushed myself to keep growing in my artistry and as a person. It will be good to see how the scene has also evolved since then.”
Daze’s work and personality is original—each painting contains his fingerprint. Whether it be abstract elements or single letters, acrylic washes and contrast rich canvases; "I personally have experienced his work to be breathtaking and would strongly encourage anyone who is able to attend this showcase to do so" Jonathan Drexler says.
You will certainly leave inspired but hopefully you have the ability to leave there with a print or painting for yourself. For those of you who have yet to observe Daze’s work in person; here is a a quote from portrait artist Keli Lucas (@Kelilucas) about witnessing a work of his at the From The Streets exhibit:
“Daze’s artisty is the stuff of legend to me. I own a copy of Subway Art and have watched Style Wars closely. Of course, there is his graffiti background but the impression I have is that Daze took his career to a unique level with the works he has produced. I had never seen a Daze canvas (in person) previously; and I was not neccasarily seeking his out—I remember just observing the various works when one canvas in particular really captivated my attention. There was so much movement in composition from one side to the other. On the left there was this beautiful and lively acrylic wash over a colorful pattern, while on the right side I could see the elements of his graffiti inspiration. The interesting part was that while the lettering had a life and style all it’s own, I could sense so much life in the other elements of the canvas as well.“
In closing, of course we would like to encourage everyone who is able to visit Daze’s show. For those who are in Paris here is the information on the gallery: Galerie Brugier-Rigail 40 Rue Volta Paris ,France 75003 tel: 33 1 42 770900 Opening April 27t, 2017
Text: Jonathan Drexler, Photos: Joanna (Joannabethpdot)