The artist Dash Snow promised me an interview, over and over. Every time I ran into him during his 2007 stay in L.A., he’d say, “We still gotta talk, man.” The last time was at the after-party for the opening of his show at Peres Projects in Chinatown. The party went down at Charlie O’s, on the ground floor of the old Alexandria Hotel. Dash was weaving through a crowd of tiptop glamorous and affected L.A. art-kids, who had gathered to hear sets from some of his favorite bands: Abe Vigoda, the Thrones and Mika Miko. The lighting was dim and red, and the room packed, from the chipped, checkered dance floor to the velvet-red booths. His gallerist, Javier Peres, the indulgent impresario of Chinatown’s art scene in those days, paid for drinks till midnight. Someone had passed around pills of MDMA and all I remember is seeing Dash’s willowy frame popping up and down, his two dusty blond braids tumbling about, hair parted down on each side of his head like some kind of Kalifornia biker demon, laughing. It had been such an unforgettable week, and with Dash in the room, it felt like things were only going to get crazier.
Snow, who died last week in New York of an apparent overdose at the age of 27, never gave me that interview. Wasn’t as though I expected it to happen. The photographer, sculptor and graffiti writer was not media-savvy to begin with. He often embellished things or outright lied when approached by the press, simply to amuse himself. But he had been dismayed, friends said, by the long article on him published earlier that year in New York magazine, which exposed him too much. Thankfully, it became clear in that short time that having Dash Snow articulate his thoughts on his practice wouldn’t be nearly as illuminating as witnessing it in action.
This involved more than spraying semen upon yellowing copies of the New York Post and putting them in frames and on gallery walls. This meant — to the great discomfort of an art world intent on boxing every gesture into its proper genres — valuing all expressions equally. Considering the work in a gallery as deeply as one’s tattoos or the quality of the tags left on a downtown alley wall. Seeing finesse and beauty in the most godless and grotesque things and faces. Clothes and jewelry and the mind-expanding and/or numbing qualities of recreational drugs. Blood and bodily fluids and prostitutes and homeless people and people having drunken, delirious sex.
In other words, all the things that ignite the rage of the critical theorist, who calls such concerns “trash” or the moralist, who derides it as meaningless “decadence.” Maybe that’s what it is. In the early 2000s, these aesthetic interests quickly became their own sort of self-defeating cliché. Drugs killed Dash, after all, and no one forced him to overdo it with heroin and end it all at a hotel in the East Village.
A member of the de Menil family, he was born into art-world royalty. Yet Dash, bravely, chose to live his teen years and young adult life as a complete street outlaw, faithfully documenting every adventure and encounter with a Polaroid camera. So tender in age himself, by the summer of ’07, he had become a father. Bravery again. By the time Dash Snow’s name became synonymous with the easy-to-be-loved, easy-to-be-loathed Lower East Side renegade artist, he never seemed to shake off his originating cultural upbringing. He lived permanently by the rules of the international graffiti fraternity, that mixture of respect for the tribe, for the adversary, and for the anarchy, the mores of the urban underworld.
The last time I saw Dash, the Weekly assigned me to do a piece on his preparations for the show at Peres Projects, “God Spoiled a Perfect Asshole When He Put Teeth in Yer Mouth.” We all hung out at Kathryn Garcia’s apartment in Silver Lake. Girlfriend Jade Berreau and baby Secret were getting into town some days later. So friends came and went. Stuff happened. Dash glowed.
He and Kathryn, an artist then working at Peres Projects, rode around looking for materials for his show. They posted a call on craigslist for male models to ejaculate on a screen with a phrase, taken directly from the New York profile — “How much talent does it really take to come on the New York Post, anyway?” — turning a common critique of his work back on its head. It would be the centerpiece of his show. A few nights later, Dash organized a happening that proved more successful than anyone at the gallery could have expected. A solid mix of all-around creepy guys — some gay, some not — got together on Chung King Road and took turns walking naked up to a platform facing the back-lit screen, and did their duty. Dash took photos excitedly, enjoying the scene. Afterward, of course, the party continued.
Throughout our interactions in L.A., Dash exhibited absolute warmth and generosity with me, and none of the pretense, competition and ill will so often associated with the downtown New York scene. He listened intently to those around him. He displayed patience and intense affection for those he cared about. And every outward impulse — every sensation or emotional cue — seemed to both alarm and excite him.
“He was a real, natural leader who could [not] care less about followers but always had an army of devotees,” said my friend Nina Tahash. “He was more of a brand than an artist. People wanted to buy a piece of him. It was more than just art.”
True. With Dash Snow around, you got the sense that the source of that crackling human energy in the air was found in someone devoted to the pure act of living, pushing those boundaries, accepting the risks. Accepting that sometimes those risks can come and catch up with you.
For a longer version of this piece, see http://blogs.laweekly.com/ladaily/arts-news/artist-dash-snow-dies/.