Not everyone in their circle was comfortable with Snow’s vespertine prowlings. “Ryan and Dan, I understand their success, but Dash, to me? As far as I was concerned, he was just a vandal,” says Jack Walls, an artist and writer whom Snow, McGinley, and Colen all refer to as a father figure and who was for many years the boyfriend and sometime subject of Robert Mapplethorpe. “There would be times I’d be hanging out with everybody drinking and Dash would go off into the night and I would be so worried about him falling off a bridge. I would just stand there watching until he was out of sight, wondering if I’d ever see him again.”
Walls met Snow one day when he was walking down Prince Street with Patti Smith’s son Jackson. “It was wintertime, and there’s this kid. He went out of his way to say hi to me. Jackson said, ‘That’s Dash, I went to school with him.’ At the Little Red Schoolhouse. And then later I was at Ryan’s and I was looking at his Polaroids and I said, ‘Who is this? What’s his story?’ Ryan said, ‘That’s Dash; he does graft.’ ”
Snow and Irak crew were always pissing people off. They used to pay bums to let them tag their backs. Another crew member named Simon Curtis got his group into trouble with the police when he drunkenly stole a topless photograph of a girl he was obsessed with from a gallery opening in Williamsburg. Two of the gallery’s owners chased him, and depending on whom you ask, one of them either jumped or was yanked into the getaway car, and the other ended up clinging to the hood as the driver sped down the street and eventually got out to punch him. McGinley was in the passenger seat, taking photographs. Curtis went to jail. McGinley was arrested but wasn’t charged—as usual, he was near the center of the action, turning it into art, one step removed from the danger. “When it comes down to it,” says McGinley, “Dash is wild, a wild kid. I have my moments? But for me, it’s always sort of about creating a fantasy. It’s, like, the life I wish that I was living. For Dash, it’s really the life.”
Snow was sent to juvenile detention when he was 13, and since then he has lived on his own and shunned his wealthy family. His friends are the ones who encouraged him to make the transition from thief to artist. Of course, rebelling against your famous art family by becoming a famous artist is a pretty interesting way to rebel.
“I think Ryan and I are blatantly ambitious, and we didn’t come from a place where we could coast by, by any means,” says Colen. “We had to make money for ourselves, and we had to figure out how to do it. And neither of us could really do anything except make art. The reason I’m not including Dash is that he more stumbled upon art, whereas Ryan and I pursued it.
“Dash started doing some things that were kind of like art, and Ryan and I used to encourage him. I used to have these long talks with him because he grew up in this art family and he met a lot of crazy people, but he was a little ignorant about stuff. He had all these weird, really amazing opportunities, like he met Robert Rauschenberg when he was 5, but maybe he didn’t know who Matthew Barney was. Me and him spent like a lot of time really late at night just talking about it.”
Colen says he introduced Snow to his former gallerists Melissa Bent and Mirabelle Marden at Rivington Arms (Colen has since switched to Peres Projects) and urged them to take on Snow, “which was, like, a bit of a struggle.” (“I’m sure Dan probably thinks he started the whole fucking gallery,” says Bent.) In any case, Snow refused to call himself an artist for a long time. He used to boast that he’d been Polaroiding his night wanderings since he stole a camera at age 13, just so he’d know where he’d been when he sobered up. More recently Snow has been into collage, but either way some see in his work a kind of radical authenticity that parts of the art world are desperate for. “Whether it’s total bullshit and he’s running around trying to get in trouble with the police, it kind of doesn’t matter,” says art agent and consultant Molly Logan. “As a case study, here’s a creature who’s just reacting. I think that for the last five years or so, there is a larger desire for the personal: something that has the hand of a person in it. It’s not I’m going to do this so people will think I’m crazy. I am crazy! I think he’s genuinely and completely self-destructive.” Which is, of course, what the art world has always wanted, especially in New York City, what Jackson Pollock or Willem de Kooning supplied, along with genius. That magic flash of insanity, framed and for sale.