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From graffiti to galleries

Urban artist brings street style to another level

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Urban artist Doze Green has brought street style to the gallery crowds.

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(CNN) -- Artist Doze Green once used only the brick walls, freight trains and alleys of New York as his canvases. His artistry was not only unknown, it was illegal.

Years later, his pieces adorn art gallery walls from Milan to Manhattan and corporations commission his work.

"I never really thought about my work going legal," Green says. "I never in my wildest dreams did I think that painting subway trains ... would lead up to galleries and museum shows."

Green, whose real first name is Jeff, got the nickname Doze in junior high school. Growing up, he says he used to fall asleep and daydream all the time, looking everywhere else but at the teacher.

The name has stuck, Green says, because it represents who he is.

"I'm a dreamer. I'm always in another place, and I'm always in the dream state, so to speak, thinking about ideas. And that's where I reside most of the time -- in the dream state."

Green's love for graffiti in junior high school first blossomed during a school-sponsored event.

"All of these graffiti artists from Manhattan and the Upper West Side came down to do a mural. ... So in my art class, I joined the contest."

Although he did not win, Green says the experience "sparked something in me."

A creative outlet

Growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, Green says many of his classmates and peers joined gangs.

"New York at the time was going through a serious recession," Green says. "Kids really resorted to the gangs ... to kind of like say 'I'm a part of something.'"

Green credits graffiti for keeping him out of the worst trouble -- even if it was, generally, illegal.

"[Graffiti] got me on a more positive direction towards expressing myself instead of smashing a window or smashing a head."

Green eventually started painting in a studio in Brooklyn. One of his first attempts to make money from his craft came in a stint working as a graphic designer designing corporate logos.

"It just wasn't fulfilling enough for me," Green says. "It was boring. It became redundant. I just started painting again."

Gradually, more and more of his pieces appeared in galleries, and Green got more attention.

From the street to Wall Street

Meanwhile, Green began noticing that graffiti artists were not the only ones intent on reaching people in urban areas. Advertisers, going after younger and diverse markets, were employing some of the same methods he had used.

"I started seeing advertising plastered all over buses," Green says. "Back in the day ... we used to tag trains top to bottom, and all of a sudden it was legitimized by these corporations."

This method opened doors for Green, who has created large murals on street walls for companies wanting to reach a new market.

"It helps them; it helps us," Green says. "It creates a great publicity for their image -- youth oriented. It's now. It's fresh."

While his corporate work earns him a good income, Green says it can also lead to backlash among fellow street artists.

"You can damage yourself if you work too much with too many corporations," Green says. "It ... destroys your legitimacy in the art world sometimes -- like people look at you like you're selling out."

So Green is selective with the corporations he works for.

"I won't work with certain corporations because of their practices overseas in manufacturing -- certain clothing companies, certain soda companies."

Rawness of a street artist

Green sometimes pairs with a disc jockey to create original works in front of a live audience -- be they potential clients, customers or city residents.

The practice, which has been doing for 10 years, reflects his roots, when Green says he found joy expressing himself in front of others.

"For me, it was almost like being a musician," Green says. "It was painting freeform ... no pre-conceived prepping, no pre-conceived nothing -- just a man, an audience and his canvas alongside his music."

Through his corporate work and his gallery work, Green says he has been able to maintain his creative vision.

"I think I've retained that rawness and that truthfulness and spark that comes from the graffiti artist," Green says. "That will always be there. That's not going to leave.

"What I'm doing, it's a new vocabulary ... new ways of looking at the same thing ... Whether it's accepted by the elite or the guy in the street, what's important to me is people in general feel my work."

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