Photographer captures art of downtown’s graffiti in show

An exhibit featuring photography by Steven Dansky is scheduled to continue through May 19 at the Sunrise Library, 5400 Harris Ave. The show not only explores the artistic and cultural nature of graffiti, it uses graffiti as the starting point for unique art.

Dansky was born and raised in New York City. He moved to Las Vegas in 2007 and quickly settled into the art scene, operating a gallery at Emergency Arts for a while. He spent a lot of time walking around Fremont Street and the 18b Arts District. It was there that the local graffiti caught his eye.

“My aesthetic, my eye and how I envision art is very much an urban process,” Dansky said. “I’m basically a street photographer. Most of my work isn’t done in the studio. It’s done on the concrete in the public square.”

To Dansky, the densely packed aerosol art was a reminder of an art that he says was invented and refined to a unique form in the city of his birth.

“That art is very much a part of my history,” Dansky said. “Some of the most important artists who started graffiti art in New York City are now represented in museums across the world.”

Although many of the Arts District’s alleys and large flat walls are covered with publicly sanctioned aerosol murals, Dansky was drawn to the railroad cottages, some of the valley’s oldest surviving buildings that are covered in bright colors and fluid shapes of spray paint.

“Everything I shot for this was on railroad bungalows built to house railroad workers in the early 20th century,” Dansky said. “That’s a very unusual look. Most graffiti is not concentrated the way it is in 18b. It’s like walking through a museum.”

Dansky spent more than a year shooting photos in the Arts District, capturing not just the work that was in place but also the work in progress. His photography was not exclusively of the graffiti but also of the neighborhood. A portfolio of his graffiti photos and an interview appeared in the July-August edition of
LensWork, an art journal dedicated to fine art photography. It is these photos that are to be on display first at the Sunrise Library and later at the Mesquite and Windmill libraries.

Dansky doesn’t simply chronicle the existing art.

“A lot of the art is transmuted through my vision,” Dansky said. “Some of the color is changed and greatly intensified from what exists in reality.”

While some of the pictures are at a distance so the building is obvious, others are taken at extreme close-ups, so that it isn’t initially apparent that the work is on a building.

“When you look closely you might notice the texture of the cinder block or the grain of the wood,” Dansky said.

Photography isn’t Dansky’s first career. Until recently he was a psychotherapist and is still licensed to practice in New York. In the mid-1960s he produced a bilingual community newsletter. He was a self-publisher, back when that meant hand-cranking a mimeograph machine.

Dansky, who is set to celebrate his 70th birthday April 15, campaigned for John F. Kennedy, became an outspoken LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) activist and was an early activist in the HIV/AIDS awareness movement. He is the author of “On Bearing Witness: Images & Reflections of the LGBT Movement (1969-1971),” a collection of essays, photographs and speeches. He and his partner, Barry Safran, traveled to Massachusetts to get married on the first day it was legal there. Dansky is a longtime writer and recently launched Christopher Street Press.

Denise Alvarado, gallery services coordinator for the Las Vegas-Clark County Library District, first became aware of Dansky’s work when he entered the district’s annual Over the Rainbow art competition.

“His work is superlative,” Alvarado said. “That show has brought some really great artists to my attention.”

For more information, visit lvccld.org or call 702-507-3900.

Contact Sunrise/Whitney View reporter F. Andrew Taylor at ataylor@viewnews.com or 702-380-4532.

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