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Dax Rudnak, better known as Dr. Dax, made a name for himself as a painter, street artist and video producer for the Dungeon Family, the legendary Atlanta hip-hop collective that birthed OutKast and Goodie Mob.

He’s named for the James Bond-like character Dax Xenos from the 1970 action movie The Adventurers and first visited Atlanta in 1984. While riding a MARTA train, he noticed graffiti on the walls, bridges and rooftops, and was instantly obsessed. “To come here from South Florida is to be immersed in the urban elements,” he says.

At first, he didn’t feel like his art fit into Atlanta’s gallery scene. But over time, he’s noticed a renaissance in the popularity and acceptance of graffiti and street art. “Growing up, being into art wasn’t like football or even being a rapper,” he says. “Being a drug dealer was cooler than anything, and I grew up in a strange street mentality of machismo. Doing graffiti was something that you’re supposed to keep secret, but I carried that notion into my art. Then I realized that my personality was very powerful.”

Atlanta has certainly changed since Dax first arrived, but his graffiti has influenced progressive art as we know it. It’s where he’s meant to be. 

THE WORK:

Before Covid-19 caused a massive shutdown of all face-to-face interaction, Dax completed a “peace and love abstract piece” on the side of Our Bar ATL (339 Edgewood Ave. S.E.). It’s full of color, whimsical twists and turns, and patterns. His blue mural on the same street memorializes several departed friends. He participated in 2019’s OuterSpace Project (545 Edgewood Ave. S.E.) and has several murals scattered around Little Five Points, the Edgewood Avenue area, Bankhead Highway and beyond. His work can be found online at DaxFolio.com

Dr. Dax’s mural for 2019’s OuterSpace Project. It’s in the 500 block of Edgewood Avenue S.E. (Photos by streetartmap.org)

BACKGROUND:

Dax’s father was an illustrator. “He was a little bit of influence, but it was mostly the graffiti in the streets that captivated me,” Dax says. “I moved to Atlanta and tried to find people who were doing it, which seemed impossible. They were the most elusive characters of all.” He recalls stealing his first can of spray paint from his father’s studio. One night he took the can under a bridge and painted his first word: “Justice.” By 1998, he was painting constantly. “The first time I got creative with art supplies was when I used to paint punk rockers’ leather jackets in Little Five Points.”

FROM MUSIC TO ART:

What combines all art forms is a sense of relentlessness. While producing videos for the Dungeon Family, Dax noticed that they used new equipment, pushing boundaries in the studio and tirelessly reworking or manipulating a song until it sounded perfect. 

“They were influential in that they were pushing for me to be a commercial artist,” he says. “In my younger age, it wasn’t something that really interested me. My friends were just hustling in the streets, but then that started getting me in trouble. Big Boi, Andre 3000 and my Dungeon Family would always reiterate that art could be my career.”

Seeing the musicians doing their hip-hop commercially showed Dax structure. An early breakthrough came with no-rules interior designer Patti Krohngold (the Tongue & Groove nightclub). “That was the first time I thought maybe I should start focusing on this because this could be a career, which it has been for about 12 years now.” Dax now lives atop his own studio.

The completed mural on Ashley Avenue N.E.

THEMES + STYLE:

“There are always positive messages within my work. I usually start by drawing those messages, even in my abstract stuff, then I apply my personal energy into them — bright colors, energetic and fluid movements, almost ballerina-like movements even within the letter structures.”

He follows his father’s code: “If you want to be an artist, the best thing you can do is just try to pull from inside and not from outside influence, and come up with techniques and ways of painting that suit you — that come from my heart and soul.” 

Dax learned most of his techniques in the street with spray paint and took to the graffiti guidelines of throwing up an outline, filling it in, doing designs, and then adding the final outline and highlights. “Throughout my career, I’ve kind of stayed within those boundaries. But this past year, I’ve started breaking down those barriers and deconstructing them.” 

WHAT’S NEXT:

Dax was about to hit the road to BUKU Music + Art Project in New Orleans to paint four commissioned pieces when Covid-19 hit, but he’s staying positive. “I’m not letting all the cancellations get me down; it means more time in the studio to work.” 

LET US HEAR FROM YOU:

ArtsATL’s street art column appears every other Thursday and is done largely in collaboration with Art Rudick and his Atlanta Street Art Map. We’d love to hear your ideas, too. See something you like? Something we should know about? Have an opinion or suggestion? Please email kathy@artsatl.org.

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In times like these, when we are separated by necessity, ArtsATL is needed more than ever. Please consider a donation so we can continue to highlight Atlanta’s creative community during this unprecedented time.

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