Pop Art, Fashion, and Graffiti Merge in DAIN’s Street Art-Inspired Collages

Courtesy DAIN

Courtesy DAIN

Brooklyn-based street artist  layers diverse aesthetic styles with the same dexterity he applies to his signature wheat paste collages. Combining imagery and techniques related to graffiti, vintage fashion photography, and expressive painting, DAIN’s collages—which are at home on city streets and gallery walls alike—resolve as vibrant Pop Art-laced palimpsests.  
The recent attention DAIN has garnered should come as no surprise. His work is bright, kaleidoscopic, and chock full of cultural signifiers and gestures related to street and fine art alike. This multifaceted approach began at a young age, and has informed his work ever since: “I started doing graffiti at around eight or nine years old,” DAIN told Artsy. “I began working with silkscreen, collage, and painting and started putting work on the streets some years ago, which led me to working on canvas and wood.”
This summer, DAIN’s work is on view at Miami’s Avant Gallery and, at his recent solo show “Tribute to Rome” organized by Avant and held in Rome, he exhibited a suite of large-scale works using collaged elements from fashion magazines to build figures over bright, expressive grounds—big strokes of spray paint and swathes of acrylic applied with rollers. In Backlash at Me (all works 2014), the face and torso of a young woman swathed in fine clothing are pieced together using details cut from a range of sources. While her body faces straight ahead, her head twists up creating a disjointed perspective reminiscent of Cubism, emphasizing the subject’s facial features—the nucleus of DAIN’s compositions. “The process always begins with the eyes,” DAIN explained. “I then often collage a few faces and/or patterns to create a new image. My background in graffiti and fashion are intertwined in every piece, pairing every woman’s face with a man’s suit. This keeps the eyes as the focal point.”
The repetition of patterns and themes across his body of work reveals DAIN’s interest in the intersection of fashion, branding, and creative expression. The star-patterned kerchief of Backlash recurs in Twisted Star Spangle creating a through line alluding to mass-produced textiles and the propagation of trends. Likewise, DAIN comments on the split between the luxury industry and street culture by borrowing Burberry and Chanel motifs, then tearing or scrawling his name over them—a nod to the act of tagging. Similarly in Funtastico, DAIN includes bits of text from advertisements but renders them illegible by clipping and reordering them.
Rather than using adhesives common to collage-based works, DAIN layers his imagery by wheatpasting on wood panels, as graffiti artists adhere their posters and works on paper to building walls. All Tied Up For You, one of his most ambitious pieces, amasses a complex array of selected bits into a twisting body. The woman’s right hand recurs three times, as if in ecstatic movement. Like other street artists, such as , , and , DAIN’s complexly allusive work builds on both found and invented imagery, treating the two as indistinguishably vital to art.

—Stephen Dillon

Tribute to Rome” was on view at Avant Gallery, Rome, Jul. 12–25, 2015.