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07.16.09

Dash Snow: Death of an Art Star

Wunderkind artist Dash Snow overdosed in New York this week. Ana Finel Honigman spoke to his inner circle—including Ryan McGinley and Terence Koh, who share never-before-seen images of Snow.

Plus: Read Anthony Haden-Guest on the life and death of Dash Snow.

Dash Snow was an artist whose subject matter involved rats, famished dogs, squalid sex, police brutality, and street life. His mediums included begrimed newspapers and his own semen. But his friends, and anyone who met him, remember his sweetness.

"Dash was one of the gentlest, most generous and affectionate friends I had," says Terence Koh, his fellow artist and close friend, the day after the 27-year-old artist and father died of a heroin overdose in Manhattan's Lafayette Hotel, off the Bowery, which he helped to make the unlikely axis of New York's young art community. "I miss him very much but love him even more," says Koh. "He made me smile a lot, but most importantly, he made my heart laugh," says Javier Peres, the renowned art dealer of Peres Projects who represented Snow. "Dash found beauty where most would not know to look. We will treasure his life always."

View Our Gallery of Exclusive Dash Snow Photographs and Artwork, Submitted by His Friends

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Gentle subject matter does not make genuine art. Like Sylvia Plath, Georges Bataille, Charles Bukowski, Kurt Cobain, and precious few others, Snow could transform puke into poetry. The materials he used for his collages were common, but he was exceptional. He rejected the ease of his being born into the prominent de Menil art dynasty, but he remained close with his family, even after leaving reform school at 14 and helping to found the IRAK graffiti crew.

Photographer Ryan McGinley, Snow's best friend along with artist Dan Colen (all three were profiled in a 2007 New York magazine cover story), documented his street art in images like the mythic 2000 Dash Bombing. McGinley notes, "He was one of my first muses. He embodied everything that I wanted to photograph and everything that I wanted to be. Irresponsible, reckless, carefree, wild, rich. We were just kids doing drugs and being bad. Out at bars every night. I don’t think we ever saw each other in daylight. We were like vampires."

From his graffiti, Snow evolved into Dada-like collage and photography. His worked earned him initial recognition in The Wall Street Journal's " The 23-year-old Masters," a summation of the emerging "Bowery School" art scene. As his friend Francesca Gavin wrote in her memoriam on Dazeddigital: “His art taunted and flaunted, prodded hypocrisy and pushed hedonism. Looking at his collages, installations, films and photos, what comes across—what always came across—is his sheer talent."

Snow’s works were exhibited in the Whitney Biennial, and were shown in London's Royal Academy and St. Petersburg's Hermitage as part of Charles Saatchi’s USA Today  exhibition. His prematurely aged collage and fragile Polaroid photographs were prophetic homages to wild, beautiful, full youth. And his caring support for friends' creativity, excitement, and interests made him a much loved, and needed, figure in Manhattan's downtown art scene. He was always an ethereal but very real person.

Snow saw beauty and made beautiful things that were genuinely dark, grimy, and toxic. "Heroin, oh heroin, oh heroin," McGinley laments. "Taken so many lives of such great artists. Taken so many of my friends' lives. I don’t know if you’re not supposed to write about drugs when one of your friends dies of an overdose, but those are all my memories of Dash. Drug and alcohol induced memories. It’s always been a bottle of Jack, a bag of coke, and some beers. And lots of bathrooms. That was just our relationship. That’s what our lives were. Adventures on drugs. And it’s what eventually led him to his death. I lost my little bro. I can't stop the tears."

Along with sympathy for Snow’s family, and cherished companion Jade Berreau and daughter Secret Magic Nico Snow, the prevailing sentiment among his countless friends is that the following tribute comes far too soon. As legendary filmmaker Bruce la Bruce writes of Snow, "He's too beautiful a soul in an ugly world to burn out like that, but I suppose that's why his life has to be constantly on the verge of sacrifice to make that point."

Plus: Check out Art Beast, for galleries, interviews with artists, and photos from the hottest parties.

Ana Finel Honigman is a New York-born and Berlin-based art and fashion critic, curator and Ph.D. candidate at Oxford University.