Dash Snow

By
Photography Craig Mcdean

Published December 11, 2015

Dash used hand signals and kept time with cigarettes. He had endless terms and expressions, which in conversation took on the rhythm of found poetry.nate lowman

The first time I properly met Dash Snow was in the waiting room of the ER at Beth Israel hospital in Manhattan. This was sometime not long after the World Trade Center fell down. Our mutual friend had been stabbed earlier that day in the East Village. Luckily, our friend’s condition was stable, and the character of our intimate congregation there, though intense, was optimistic. I liked Dash. I was aware of him before getting to know him, as were many of my peers. I understood that a person whose reputation precedes him is prone to misrepresentation. 

A while later, he began a romantic relationship with the dancer Jessie Gold, my friend of many years. On a trip to Jessie’s hometown, Miami, they visited the Rubell Family Collection, where I had installed an artwork that was composed of paintings, photographs, and various other two-dimensional media, including oversized photocopies that were pinned, taped, or pasted directly on the wall. Our first art-related conversation was about this piece, especially the photocopies, as he was interested in the practice of photocopying via zine culture. My interest was (and continues to be) in the breakdown of visual languages. On the wall, I intended to destroy the hierarchical relationship between the brushstroke and the xerographic dot. I wanted to make a place where the idea became the prose and the subject was set free. Dash, as I would learn, was also in love with language. He had a particular taste for slang from American folklore. I knew of nicknames for New York’s Finest, like po-pos and Jakes, but Elroys? Dash used hand signals and kept time with cigarettes. He had endless terms and expressions, which in conversation took on the rhythm of found poetry.

I told Dash about East Side Copy & Print, a place on 13th Street between University and Fifth that had a big machine upstairs. For very little money, one could blow up a photocopy to a large size. It was a small, chaotic place and not known for particularly gracious customer service, but if you had some patience with their lack of patience, the staff would eventually welcome you to do what you wished. The workers there came from various corners of Europe, Asia, the Caribbean, and Queens. Upstairs also had a bathroom that usually smelled like blunts had just been smoked there.

On a cold February night, we were celebrating the birthday of our friend, the critic David Rimanelli. Dash arrived with a big photocopy for David and another one that he gave to me (as was his way). It was an enlargement of one of his collages. I left with the piece, but for one reason or another it never made it home safely. It’s funny, because for all of my theoretical belief in the value of a photocopy, I didn’t manage to hang on to that one.

I never told him that I lost that piece. I also never told him that my favorite Polaroid in his first solo show at the Rivington Arms gallery was the one of the Shell gas station with the S burned out. It’s not so hard to tell someone something like that, but maybe when you’re young, it’s hard to tell them exactly why.

I still have everything else Dash ever gave me. Books, zines, photographs, Polaroids, a ring, a collage, and even a boater hat he made me wear in a Super 8 movie he shot on a trip to Long Island to visit our friend Adam McEwen, who had an exhibition in East Hampton. I had the pleasure of being in a second short film, which was essentially a portrait of Clarissa Dalrymple and me, commissioned by Olivier Zahm for Purple magazine. For this, Dash collaborated with Jade Berreau, the mother of his daughter, Secret, whom I also met at Beth Israel a day or two after she was born. To make the portrait, Dash and Jade took turns holding the camera and blowing bubbles from a bottle of soapy water (Secret’s favorite amusement in those days) into the frame, while Clarissa and I sat on her couch wearing sunglasses and talking. The bubbles were needed to catch the light from a handheld bulb, and Jade and Dash kept having to switch tasks because maintaining a steady stream of bubbles makes one quite lightheaded. That was about as hi-fi as it ever got with Dash. Not enough daylight? A bottle of soapy water, a bulb, and one’s lungs would be fine. In fact, better than fine-lying on the floor, out of breath, but somehow still laughing with the ecstatic energy of low fidelity and a film in the can.

Two years after Dash passed away, I was reading an article in the newspaper about a L’Oréal cosmetics campaign featuring the likeness of Julia Roberts. In England, there existed an MP who has been called the “Photoshop police.” This person had deemed the picture of Roberts to be unrealistically perfect looking and got the ad banned from print in the U.K.

At the time, I was preparing an exhibition in Rome that would run concurrently with an exhibition of one of Dash’s films as well as an exhibition of paintings by Dan Colen. The three shows were to open the same night at different venues and were billed under the collective title “Three Amigos.” I had not intended to address Dash’s absence artistically, but the idea that Julia Roberts had become impossibly, illegally beautiful took root in my mind, and I eventually painted the image of her as a stand-in for a portrait of Dash. When I enlarged the image xerographically, the dots spread apart so very wide that Roberts’s face became ghostly and haunted.

The Brant Foundation Art Study Center in Greenwich, Connecticut, is staging an exhibition of Dash’s artwork, the most substantial show since his passing in 2009. It opens November 8, and as I write this, a handful of Dash’s friends are chipping in, helping the Brant Foundation tie up loose ends and offering advice regarding the installation, etcetera. This show will include some piles of oversized photocopied posters, from which visitors can take one home if they like. I went to 13th Street to visit the big machine upstairs and see about getting the posters printed. Sadly, like most of the idiosyncratic vendors in money-makin’ Manhattan, the shop has been replaced and the rooms renovated. Rest in Peace, East Side Copy. Rest in Peace, Dash Snow.