Dash Snow, the controversial New York artist who has died of a drug overdose aged 27, was as famous for his establishment family background as he was infamous for his enfant terrible antics; in Britain his breakthrough came in 2006 when the Saatchi gallery exhibited a typically provocative collage of newspaper clippings depicting police injustices entitled F--- the Police.
Saatchi put Snow up in a Piccadilly hotel along with his friend and fellow New York artist Dan Colen. The pair decided to make a "hamster nest" within their hotel room – shredding phone books, blankets and curtains for "bedding" in which to curl up and take a cocktail of drugs. The experiment ended with them evacuating the hotel room in the middle of the night to escape arrest. Typical of Snow's infusion of his excess into his art, he then set up the NEST installation with Colen at Deitch Projects in New York, where two thousand phone books were destroyed over five nights.
Despite his rebellious behaviour, Snow was far from an art-world outsider. His grandmother is the philanthropist and art collector Christophe de Menil, whose mother Dominique de Menil was heiress to the Schlumberger oil fortune and a major art collector. His mother, Taya Thurman, is Hollywood actress Uma Thurman's half sister. She recently gained attention for charging the highest rent on record at the Hamptons: $750,000 for a single summer season.
Yet instead of capitalising on the standing of the De Menil dynasty, Snow used his estrangement from it to provide the catalyst for a consciously confrontational artistic style.
Dashiell A. Snow was born in New York on July 27, 1981. He was a rebellious child and at 13 was sent to reform school in Georgia by his parents. He never returned to the family home, preferring to move to Lower East Side in Downtown Manhattan.
Snow's artistic career began when he stole a camera as a young teenager. He liked, he said, to take pictures of the places he visited while drunk so he could remember them once he had sobered up the following day.
At 15 he started the Irak graffiti crew, which specialised in tagging and theft (to 'rack' is graffiti slang meaning to steal), daubing his tag "Sace", over and over on the walls of New York.
After meeting the artists Ryan Mcginley and Colen, Snow was encouraged to exhibit his photographs. These explicit portrayals of the sexual and drug-taking excesses of his circle created a popular stir, but divided critical opinion. His first solo show was in New York's Lower East Side in 2005 and his work was included in the 2006 Whitney Biennial.
Snow's bedraggled rock-star image quickly led to near-mythic status in the downtown art scene. His detractors thought of him as just another rich kid with a Polaroid and a drug habit. Yet his fans – of which there are many – believe that he was one of the most talented artists working in his city, following in the great New York documentary tradition of artists such as Nan Goldin. Among his collectors is the hedge-fund manager Adam Sender, who owns an untitled work made up of 20 portraits of Saddam Hussein, covered in glitter.
"There was so much more to come," noted Francesca Gavin, visual arts editor for the magazine Dazed&Confused. "He only had three years of making real artwork out there in the world. He was the most talented in his group."
Snow recently had video work shown at Peres Projects, the gallery in Berlin. The films shown depicted him playing with his new partner, Jade Berreau, and one-year-old daughter, Secret, and hinted at a new period of greater maturity.
Despite reports that Snow, a heroin user, had beaten his addiction, he was found at Lafayette House in New York after a drug overdose on Monday. "He went to a detox centre in March and then everything was fine for about two months," his grandmother said in a statement. "As a human, Dash lived on the edge."
Dash Snow, who died on July 13, married the Corsican artist Agathe Aparru in 1999. The marriage ended in divorce. He is survived by his partner and daughter.
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