Artists coming from a graffiti background rarely follow a straight path from the streets and train yards to the gallery. But even by those standards, the route Doze Green has taken has been unusually circuitous and lined with a plethora of predictable and unpredictable influences. Yet somehow he always found himself at the nexus of important moments in the history of hip-hop and urban art. Did Doze Green simply stumble his way to fame, or does he have a unique ability to sense and seize important moments in youth culture? After hearing his story, one suspects that the latter is closer to the truth.
As DOZE TC5, he painted New York’s subways and learned directly about graffiti and life itself from RAMMELLZEE and Dondi White, the “graffiti gods,” as he calls them. He was a member of the famous breakdancing Rock Steady Crew. He hung with Warhol and Basquiat. He helped define the visual identity of hip-hop and street styles in Los Angeles as a RHYME SYNDICATE member, along with Ice-T, and then found himself in San Francisco as the artists of the Mission School took flight. He joined the FUTURE PRIMITIVE collective just as DJ culture went through a revival in San Francisco and subsequently saw his career as the fine artist Doze Green take off with a series of sold-out solo shows in the second half of the ’90s.
Back in New York around the turn of the millennium, he worked as an art director for Ecko Unlimited and became a leading member of the BARNSTORMERS art collective. He was a street artist before the term was widely used and has exhibited around the world and refined his visual language consistently ever since.
OPTIMO Acrylic and spray on canvas 2015, 70” x 60”
UNTITLED Acrylic and spray on canvas 2015, 48” x 60”
Today, Green is known particularly for his abstract representations of the human form; tangled lines and shapes come together in stark portraits that evoke tribalistic art and channel his myriad influences. It would take a book just to untangle the many inputs of creative thought and vision that have shaped Green’s work, but even an examination of his most tangible influences yields compelling insights.
As a graffiti writer on New York’s subways in the late ’70s and early ’80s, Green already had a penchant for symbolism, beginning with the five- and eight-pointed stars representing different generations of his crew, the CRAZY 5. He was put down with the crew by SEEN and became its vice president not long after. “I was known for my characters and letters in the ’80s,” Green recalls. But, he says, “it came to a point where I just got really bored of the letterform.”
DAATH Acrylic and spray on canvas 2018, 57” x 57”
NARCISSUS Acrylic and spray on canvas 2018, 57” x 55”
He decided that he needed to destroy the letter in order to set himself free. The traditional graffiti outline hence morphed into a free-flowing, stream-of-consciousness form. “I pulled the line out, like pulling a thread out of a sheet or a piece of clothing. I took away the structure of the letterform and reconstructed it as I wanted. For me the line is not flat, it’s a circle, it’s a tube.” He has also credited his experience as a dancer for his style of painting. “As a b-boy I saw footwork as points on a map. When you are training, you are drilling patterns, geometry, creating forms with your body.” Similarly, the act of painting attunes the mind to the body, and vice versa.
More recently, Green has increasingly (though not entirely) freed himself from the line itself. While he hasn’t abandoned his instantly recognizable humanoid characters, rather than letting rigid lines define every aspect of the image, he is letting colors and negative space guide the eye of the viewer. “I use long-haired brushes to apply the line and to create the illusion of depth of field,” he explains. “I see the lines spatially, overlapping, coming back out, moving behind, showing translucency.” In many of the paintings he has created in recent years, “the negative space is coming forward into view, and what was predominant is falling back. The line is less important than what’s in between.” The resultant images depict fierce figures that can seem both ordinary in their humanity and mythical in their otherworldly shapes, proportions and spatial interplay of color and light.
SOPHIA YALDEBAOTH Acrylic and spray on canvas 2018, 55” x 51”
MORGELLIA Acrylic and spray on canvas 2018, 57” x 57”
Green’s new artistic direction is nurtured further by his recent move to yet another new home, this time in Brazil. “I’m excited about the freedom to create with less obstacles, to venture into projects in sculpture, welding, ceramics and sound installation,” he reports. His prolific posts on social media serve as a window into his daily practice of meditation, creation and collaboration. But painting remains at the core of his work. The way Green describes it, the act of painting is a state of being that powerfully ties together physical reality and metaphysical ideals.
“There’s a chemical beauty in it; there’s a beauty in the interaction between the layers and what was previously done. It’s cool to see the strokes, from those done initially to the final strokes. It’s kind of like a dance, the dance of the b-boy. It’s about not getting stuck on things and continuing. Knowing things are always mutable, always moving and transforming into something else. Nothing stays in its form forever. Water evaporates into vapor, ether into the unknown.”
Article originally appeared in BEYOND THE STREETS show catalog.
* Banner Image: DOZE GREEN AT BEYOND THE STREETS NYC / Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images for BEYOND THE STREETS