As a street artist, Dan Witz lends wit, color, and grace to New York City. As an oil painter, he seduces outsiders into warm homes and lit storefronts. Though different from the hoodies and skaters he paints onto public space, these paintings are a gentle reminder that, once in a while, everyone needs to come inside.

In the 1980s, Witz was also a musician involved in the downtown art-punk scene. He currently lives in Brooklyn and splits his time between making gallery paintings and street art. All images are copyright © Dan Witz, all rights reserved, and appear courtesy of DFN Gallery.

Why have you painted all these lights in the dark?

I look at the world and I see a million things I want to paint every day but I keep coming back to light as a subject. I don’t know exactly why. It would probably be pretentious if I tried to describe it. I do know that paintings can do certain things that nothing else can. One thing oil paint on canvas can do can do is make light seem real. Things glow. They’re warm and they’re welcoming—I think there’s a primal attraction to that. In Western painting, light gives spiritual significance. The Old Master technique is all about producing light and evoking whatever phenomenon of light they want.

For me, light painted is almost a spiritual cliche—like a beam of light or a glowing halo. But, it works on me, it tips me past normal thinking and [I feel] that my eyes are open. I love paintings that instigate a type of revelry in me. [This revelry] opens my mind to things.

We’ve all looked into lit windows at night and imagined the life inside. Why are we so drawn to glowing windows and warm lighting?

There’s a longing we all have for home and security, hearth and warmth; especially if you live in New York City where we’re all kind of homeless. The window is an access point for me to get to that “home sweet home.” I know that feeling and I think we all respond to that. Loneliness is another thing that everyone responds to. The bodegas also have a wandering, lonesome, late-at-night [feeling].

You painted homes in Highland Park, Ill., where you grew up. Are there any other personal experiences represented in these paintings?

I started doing paintings of windows from the outside when I was getting kicked out of my loft on Ludlow Street [on the Lower East Side of Manhattan]. That was where I’d lived for 15 years, and I didn’t have a home anymore, so I’d drive out into the suburbs and do paintings of windows with curtains inside. Home sweet home.

You’re well known as a street artist. Why is your gallery work so different in style and theme from your street work?

For me, it wouldn’t make sense to bring my street art into galleries. Even photographs of street art to me look kind of uncomfortable. It looks like it’s been tamed or housebroken. With street art, I get to run through a thousand ideas a year. Usually, with my gallery work, I keep to one line of inquiry. Being an artist you have all these ideas and there’s never enough time. It’s frustrating. Street art lets me release all the frustration and pent-up ideas. I can experiment on the street; I can make mistakes and try different techniques. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t matter.

Has your street work influenced your paintings?

I use a lot [of techniques] in my paintings that I’ve learned from doing street art—especially digital technology. I’ve started working over photographs so that I could make stickers, and now I’ve adapted that technology to the canvas. It’s been a huge [help] to my work.

Your oil paintings look in from outside. As a street artist who also shows in galleries, what’s your relationship to the art world?

It’s odd now because I’m not an outsider like I used to be. I’m kind of well known. It’s much easier to travel through society in New York without being this kind of loser street artist, ‘cause now people are like, “Wow, you’re a street artist.” I know it’s false and bullshit and mostly about fashion. I still wear the same clothes, and I look the exactly the same, but I’m perceived differently and that’s actually kind of enjoyable. I’m not an art world guy, I never will be. But it’s more fun for me than it used to be.

So, how does it feel to finally be invited to the party?

I never really wanted to be at the party. I don’t like that a lot of art you see is devoted to not connecting with people. I came up as sort of punk rock. I was anti-elitist and anti-intellectual and anti-academic. I err the other way and make things a little too easy and accessible. I started out like that and I haven’t been able to make my work more “art smart.” Now, people like work that’s not art smart because it’s a reaction against all the dense and politically sensitive work of the ‘80s and ‘90s. People are interested in what I’m doing, but for years [the attitude was], “I get it, I don’t like it.”


TMN Editor Nicole Pasulka believes she could beat a lie detector. When she sits in a chair she almost never puts her feet on the floor. Even though she likes the internet a lot, she is convinced that people will always read magazines and she is secretly building one in her basement. More by Nicole Pasulka