March 9, 2022
Artist to Watch
NB: Can you share the origin of your name, Daze?
Daze: The origin story is funny and typical. It’s very important to choose a name that will define you as you continue on; a name that no one else has at the same time. The originality is a big factor. I went through a lot of different possibilities. I started thinking more along the lines of which letters I could draw best, and which letters had a certain flow. That’s pretty much how I came up with it. It’s not just choosing a name, but that name and the letters in that name have to have a certain compatibility. That’s how it came about.
NB: Around what year was that?
Daze: This was in 1976.
NB: When I saw your recent show Give It All You Got at PPOW, it felt like such a love letter to New York and the streets. It was beautiful. Which part of New York City are you from, and which part of the city – either physical or philosophical – inspires you most?
Daze: I’m originally from Crown Heights, Brooklyn, although I have maintained a studio practice in the South Bronx for more than 30 years. I’m definitely immersed in the culture and what’s going on in the Bronx. In terms of my favorite part of the city, I have a love/hate relationship – like a lot of people – with New York. I draw inspiration from all five boroughs. I try to focus on things that are really distinct about each borough. For example, I did a series of paintings and photographs of Times Square. It was from a touristic point of view and not from the point of view of the old school Times Square – the one that I knew while coming up in the city; it’s a bit more contemporary. In the Bronx, I’ve done paintings of everyday life and everyday street scenes that I encounter in my commute to and from the studio. In Brooklyn, I’ve done a huge series about Coney Island, which is very distinct. Also, I did a whole series of paintings about Staten Island, and it’s ferry, because that’s something that I enjoyed doing as a child – taking the ferry ride on a hot summer day. As a child going to Staten Island seemed somehow exotic. Watching the ferry pull away from the terminal in lower Manhattan I felt that anything was possible here. I draw from all of those experiences, and try to focus on things that can only be found in New York.
NB: Tell us about the transition process from creating your work as graffiti interventions in the city environment, to presenting your pieces in the fine art gallery space — from the streets to the studio? How did you navigate that, and how did it feel as a creator to make that change?
Daze: For me, the transition from doing my work in the subways or streets to the studio was very natural. I was always drawing and creating on paper as a kid, whether it was just illustrations or comics. The return to that practice was, for me, a very natural part of my evolution as an artist. There are two different mindsets when you’re painting in the street, and when you’re painting in the studio. When you’re in the street, you’re working in this very physical environment, and you’re interacting with everyday people. There is also a sense of immediacy, the sense of ‘I’m not going to paint something and come back to it tomorrow.’ I generally like to create my mural works in a couple of days at the most, if not one day. In the studio, you have the luxury of being able to spend more time on a specific work. However, it’s much more of a considered process. I’m thinking about what I’m doing and I’m creating work gradually. Some works could take a couple of days, and some works could take six months, depending on the painting. That’s really the luxury that having a studio provides you. You’re able to stand back and live with your own work for a while.
NB: The wonderful exhibition of your work, Give It All You Got, recently closed at PPOW. Can you share with us the background of the show?
Daze: A large part of the work was created during the quarantine that New York endured in the early stages of the pandemic. A lot of the work examines my reaction to it. However, I see the show as a bridge between many different things. It’s a bridge between old New York and contemporary New York; it’s a bridge between my two sons and myself, because they appear in several of the works; it’s a bridge between a culture that is very much underground and the more mainstream populous, and presenting [the underground culture] to the [mainstream populous]. It’s about creating these bridges that people can cross to see what’s happening. A lot of work went into it, hence the title. When I came up with the title (it came from a song) I thought ‘wow, this really sums up how I feel right now.’ I didn’t want to hold back, I wanted to put everything into the show. Especially at a time like now, in New York and in the way that people are feeling. People are longing for some sort of return to the way things were (before two years ago), but also perhaps for something new – at the same time.
NB: Are there any upcoming projects or exhibitions you can share?
Daze: I am going to continue to work in the studio. I also do a lot of work with students that had been on hold for the last two years, because of not being able to work together in person. I am going to make a return to those mural projects with students, as I think we’re in a climate now where that can happen. In terms of exhibitions, I have a lot of exhibitions coming up in Asia. The first one is at the K11 Art Space in Hong Kong, called City as Studio, it’s a large exhibition that will be curated by Jeffrey Deitch. After that, Beyond The Streets, curated by Roger Gasman, is traveling to Shanghai. Finally, there is an exhibition called Somewhere Downtown which will take place in Beijing at the UCCA, curated by Carl McCormick.
NB: One last thing – my own personal question – do you have any good stories from the Mudd Club?
Daze: The Mudd Club was really interesting; I was so young. Here’s a story: the fourth floor of that space was run by Keith Haring. The owner of the Mudd Club had sort of just said ‘I have this space, you can do what you want.’ He would let Futura or Fab Five Freddy come and curate. There was a real seminal exhibition called Beyond Words. A lot of now-famous people were in it, who weren’t really famous at the time. I remember Keith had this piece of wood that he wanted to put in the show, and on the wood he had these crawling babies sort of following dogs. Keith said, ‘this is my stuff; this is what I do’ and I remember saying to him ‘oh, cool!’ – but thinking to myself, ‘wow, he doesn’t really have a future, if this is what he does.’ But very quickly, I was proven wrong, because of course he created a whole vocabulary from those two simple figures.
NB: We read in the history books about the Mudd Club – not that many people are still around who got to go there!