DAN COLEN: Art’s bad boy gone good

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

Words Adam Bryce photography supplied

dan colen

The Guardian once described him as the “bad-boy of post-pop art” and, alongside photographer Ryan McGinley and artist Dash Snow, New York magazine described the trio as “Warhol’s children”.

In 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 industry was fascinated with a movement out of New York, sometimes described as ‘machoism’ (a flashback 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 work groundbreaking but attitudes anti-establishment and often shocking.

One would expect this ‘anti’ attitude to be undesirable within the fine art ranks but instead, with the case of Colen and co, some of the world’s biggest galleries embraced the disruption. The trio’s lifestyles were a large 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 skyrocket. 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 Snow so famous. The effect on Colen was devastating and led to his reform; firstly dealing with his own addiction issues and then reinventing his lifestyle and buying land out of the city in Columbia County, and setting up an art 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.


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