Dan Colen: art’s bad boy gone good

Written by Adam Bryce

A tale of anti-establishment art, drugs, reinvention, solace and pure altruism.

The Guardian once described him as the “bad-boy of post-pop art”. Including close friends photographer Ryan McGinley and artist Dash Snow, New York magazine described the trio as “Warhol’s children”. By 2006, Dan Colen was a mere two years out of Rhode Island College’s Bachelor of Fine Arts programme and one of the world’s best known artists.

The art world was fascinated with a movement out of New York, sometimes described as ‘machoism’ — a flash back to the bad boy, macho attitude of Jackson Pollock in the 40s and 50s. Headed up by a new group of artists who had taken the art world by storm, their artwork was incredibly ground breaking, but their attitudes were anti-establishment and often rather shocking.

One would expect this ‘anti’ attitude to be unacceptable within the fine art ranks but, instead, with the case of Colen and co, the world’s biggest galleries seemed to embrace the disruption. The trio’s lifestyles were a part of their art and they soon became, not unlike Andy Warhol and his peers, the poster boys for making art cool again.

And so, with time, Colen’s career continued to sky rocket. As did Snow’s. But, in 2009, Snow was found dead in his apartment by his girlfriend Jade Berreau and photographer Hanna Liden, having overdosed on a deadly cocktail of drugs and alcohol. It was a passing that was, somewhat in keeping with what had made the artist so famous. The effect on Colen was devastating and led to his reform, firstly dealing with his own addictions and then reinventing his lifestyle buying land out of the city, in Columbia County, and setting up his studio.

The land inspired Colen to find solace in farming and, in 2011, he established Sky High Farm. Founded as a way to address food insecurity, the farm improves access to fresh and nutritious food for undeserved communities in New York. The 40-acre lot employs sustainable and regenerative agricultural practices to raise pasture-based livestock and grow organic fruit and vegetables, exclusively for donation and has given away more than 65 tonnes (108,333 meals) of fresh produce, meat and eggs to date.

Colen, still one of art’s most revered artists shares his insight Sky High Farm and their commitment to better living.


dan cohen

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