A master at depicting crowds clashing in violence or lost in pure ecstasy, Dan Witz (born 1957) is a contemporary American painter and street artist. Witz describes himself as a realist painter and portrays crowds of people in ecstatic, physical instances. His objective is to capture the chaotic, savage energy of the engrossing, hardcore events he attends to:
“I’m an academic realist painter, but I’m living in the 21st century, so I’m not going to be painting Roman soldiers invading, or some gothic baroque composition…The highest aspiration of an academic realist painter are these big group figure paintings, and I’m using the hardcore scene as my subject.” Dan Witz
Witz’s primary inspiration is punk rock music, preferring bands like Agnostic Front and Vision of Disorder where the crowds lose themselves. He photographs the mobs for hours and, based on the photographs taken, paints the canvasses in an academic realist style in his studio. More recently, Witz has expanded on exploring other primal emotions like ecstasy, in rave shows and orgies.
There is something absolutely enthralling about the force of a crowd, how it draws you in and subdues you, bending your will to bring out either the best or worst in you. Think of civil rights protests, bar brawls, sports fans’ celebrations, peaceful marches, orgies, pilgrimages, riots. In those and many other instances, the individual disappears and the crowds take organic, primal forms, embracing violence, hatred, ecstasy, peace or love. In fact, scientists at the University of Leeds found that “it takes a minority of just 5 percent to influence a crowd’s direction — and that the other 95 percent follow without realizing it.”
That mob mentality is perfectly illustrated in Mosh Pit (2000), a typical Dan Witz painting that shows, up close, a crowd clashing during a punk concert. The painting captures the hypnotic force of the crowd and its aggressiveness, arms and fists creating a human link that binds them all in the trance of the moment. That sameness is further increased by the similarity in clothes, the alternative display of shades of black, white and gray creating a rhythm by itself.