Chris Ellis (aka DAZE) is revered as an artist, both on the streets and in the gallery. He is a long way from his humble roots on the New York City streets, where he spent his younger years dodging Five-O as he tagged his way through the concrete jungle. Nowadays, he’s as well regarded in legitimate circles as he is in street culture. In fact, he was recently named an artist in residence at Phillips Academy’s prestigious Addison Gallery of American Art. Despite the fact that he just debuted a new show, it’s not his solo work that’s demanding DAZE’s attention these days. It’s the work he’s doing with young students, both at Phillips and at nearby Lawrence High School.
Finding your place is hard as a young artist—something DAZE remembers all too well. “It’s something that takes time,” he says. “But at a certain point, there’s this moment, when you realize this is what I was meant to be here for.” That sense of purpose can be elusive, but DAZE’s big “ah-ha” moment came when he realized how much his work was resonating with youth—and that’s a connection he’s been fostering ever since.
“Half the battle is getting their attention,” he says—an insight likely anyone who’s ever taught kids has realized. But he continues in his quest to help these young artists find a path that is unique and completely their own. That path will hopefully have some successes, and will almost have its fair share of failures—though DAZE thinks that’s okay. “It’s how you deal with failure,” he says, “how you overcome that kind of adversity…that really defines who you are.”