How many times have you wondered what it must be like to DJ the EDC mainstage? All those screaming, smiling faces staring straight at you. All those bodies moving up and down, arms flying in tandem with the beats and the bass you control. It must be exhilarating, a strange and ecstatic power. These DJs become addicted, and so did New York City–based painter Dan Witz, whose EDC-inspired painting is currently on display at Art Basel Miami.
WOMP is the closest he’s ever come. It’s 14-feet wide, stretched across two canvases, the top half the blackest night, and the bottom half nothing but screaming, deliriously enthusiastic young men and women reaching for the sky, caught in high-pitched screams in traditional ultra-realism.“All through my 20s, I was in punk bands,” Witz says. “There was a certain intensity to that experience of performing, being onstage, being in the moment and all that, that I never thought I could recapture. I was always a painter. I did both. I never thought I could recapture that when I went to just being a painter.”
It’s similar to his other works, in that it is busy and beautiful. He used to go around to punk and hardcore shows, taking pictures of mosh pits and twisted piles of tattooed flesh.
“I got a little tired after 20, 15 years of white kids with tattoos and shaved heads,” he says. “I was really more interested in diversity, gender, and stuff like that.”
He got a photo pass to EDC New York 2015, expecting to take pictures of couples dancing and young people playing with lights. He took a few hundred snaps of that, but then he climbed into the moat between Tiësto and the crowd. It changed his perspective forever.
“The music comes out, the drum goes out, and then you know it’s coming, so you go 1-2-3-4, and everybody just goes waaaahhhhh!” he says. “This collective moment of insane rapture—I was like, fuck, alright. I spent about three hours just photographing them doing that. To me, it’s the most intense and expresses that rapture-battle thing I’ve been looking for—the most intensity.”
This isn’t just one photo recreated as a painting; that would be too easy. Each character in the chaotic scene represents a single photograph. The bodies are cut out and put together again in a new, freakish collage, like putting a puzzle together without any rules. He creates his own mishmash of people, and the communal magic reappears when he paints them back to life.
He’s already working on his next piece, another collage created from the same EDC New York photo series. It’s about halfway finished, and it’s quite similar to WOMP, but in this one, every figure is looking directly into your soul.
“That was something strange that happened,” he says. “I’m in the moat; I just have a camera. I’m not anyone that they’ve ever heard of, but they’re all like, ‘come here,’ and they’re reaching out, imploring me. The hunger and the mad lust to have their picture taken—it was really compelling.”
He still prefers his hardcore music and paints to ambient house rather than Tiësto’s greatest hits, but he can’t wait to go back to the next rave.
“Being there—and the collective energy of 85,000 people rising to their feet, raising their hands over their heads, and screaming—was an amazing experience,” he says, smiling. “It’s not for nothing. This is not bullshit; this is authentic. It’s not a bunch of teeny-boppers, or anything like that. They’re really transporting.”
WOMP can be seen at Art Basel, November 30 – December 4, at the Juxtapoz Clubhouse, Mana Contemporary Wynwood Complex, 555 NW 24th Street, Miami, FL 33127. Entry is free.