BY GAVIN GODFREY
At first glance there’s nothing special about Bims Liquor Store. On this particular Atlanta afternoon, there are few cars, but plenty of action in the parking lot. To the left of the small building there’s one homeless man, pants to the ground, ass out, taking a piss. Over on the right side, there’s an older inebriated fellow being helped across a terrain of Bud Light cans, red Solo cups, cigarette butts and broken glass by two other men. It’s here where I meet Dax Rudnak aka Dr. Dax aka Dax.
You see, behind Bims lies sacred ground for Dax, the graffiti artist, muralist, painter, photographer and man behind SnortThis.com. Down a steep and rock-filled hill nestled behind the liquor store are train tracks, where passing freight cars bearing the writing and works of Dax and other artists around the country can be seen.
Dax takes a few drags from his cig and tells me, “I kind of like being the only fucker in my realm here.”
And he’ll tell me more about what he means by that, but for now there’s talk of Atlanta legends SIR LEON and SAVE. Dax and a group of other artists are discussing the first generation graffiti writer and his mentee who hailed from Atlanta’s now-destroyed Bowen Homes. Both men influenced these guys and changed Atlanta forever they all tell me.
After that, a game of throwing rocks at empty beer bottles by the tracks ensues. Not surprisingly, Dax is a marksman at annihilating the glass with one solid throw with a hefty rock. Dax spots a piece he did on a passing train and as the sun sets over the city’s west side, we head for his house to knock out the interview.
“Everybody who knew each other back in the day was fate, “Dax says as we sit down in his living room and start to discuss his interconnectedness to seemingly every creative scene in the city. “We didn’t know each other because we had each other’s Twitter. Everybody you knew back then, you were supposed to know. It was like God’s will, you know?”
I nod and he offers a more somber thought to the aforementioned quote.
“Now it’s like who knows why we’re all together here? That’s kind of scary to me.”
God’s will make its way into Dax’s life in 1985. The 8-year-old kid living South Florida by way of Cleveland, Ohio, came to Atlanta to visit his father and brother. Riding MARTA, young Dax fell in love with graffiti the moment he saw it on the trains and outside car windows in various spots downtown. “That’s how Atlanta became my life,” he says, adding that eventually things down in Florida got “rough” for him so he officially made Atlanta his home. “I made my brother take me to the ends of every line, both directions, so I could look out the window.”
From the MARTA rides to his carving out his own niche as a young artist, Dax made a connection with legendary producer Ray Murray of Organized Noise, and became a member of Dungeon Family. Linking up with folks like the early incarnations of OutKast, Goodie MOB and the entire DF collective changed Dax’s life perspective forever, he says.
“Meeting people like that made me realize it’s cool to be creative, outside the box, and tap into your fucking wild side,” he says showing me photo albums with images of 16-year-old versions of Big Boi and Andre 3000. And with every photo Dax has a thousand words and loves to recount the insanely vivid stories behind every image (a lot of which are off record).
Shifting between being a prominent fixture on the graffiti and music scene, the Dr. Dax namesake was born. The images that fill Dax’s albums tell the story of an Atlanta cultural scene that was raw, but “more pure” than today’s current landscape, he asserts. And there was Dax, soaking up the best of both worlds.
“I started hustling and people started calling me ‘dirty doctor’ because I always had drugs and shit, you know, filthy,” he says with absolutely no shame, but added that the name wasn’t confined to life as a pusher and abuser.
“It was like two separate things being called, Dr. Dax,” he explains. “It was from pharmaceuticals and coke to being super knowledgeable in graffiti from all ends, the whole history.”
Though Dax’s street-savvy and grasp of the budding creative culture helped him travel and mingle with celebrities and future heroes of the city, he knew he had to begin to distance himself from the music scene to fill a void in Atlanta’s art world constantly being overlooked.
“In the city, no one gives a fuck about visual art,” he says.
And what about the music scene to which he’s help cultivate and grow in his own right? Oh yea, he’s done with that shit.
“I love some of my friends in the music industry, but the rest of it can all go to hell forreal – they’re evil people,” he says looking directly into my eyes as if giving more of a warning than making a statement. “The art scene is way more fucking like good vibes and fucking people are legit. They want your shit, they’re super happy to have you, and they are going to be there for you.”
At this point in our conversation Dax’s mood has gone from calm, collected Atlanta history teacher to annoyed ambassador and keeper of all things that have made the city he knows unique.
“What [visual artists] do is important, it’s just not as important as like rap,” he says in semi-down tone, but definitely not defeated. “We just happen to be the new Motown, but at the same time I don’t give up on the fact I want to be the first dude that really blows out of fucking Atlanta, so I’m not going to leave here and go submit to LA or Paris or some shit.”
Even though he says, there’s more of an appreciation for visual artists, and even some good ‘ole temptation. “When you go to L.A. there are graffiti groupies.” he says before adding, “It’s like being a rapper almost.”
The last comment makes Dax laugh and the end of our conversation drifts into the trappings of fame and the best way to go about pursuing your dreams and leaving your mark. At this point, Dax gives me two of his secrets for staying relevant over time.
“Do something worth mentioning about by the time you fucking die,” he says with an urgency that reawakens my drowsy body filled with spirits and cigarettes consumed over the course of our day.
Dax doesn’t stop there.
“Just don’t be the person that jumps in these pictures at the club all the time and think you’re fucking famous,” he says. “Fame is not what it’s all about. Leave something for people to enjoy that will inspire them for years.”
And so then I ask what happens when the motivation to create seems to fade or get sidetracked, this leads Dax into the second, um, I guess you could call it principle that he lives by.
“Do shit for the hell of it,” he says now sitting on the front porch of his modest one-story home. “I’ll go paint a freight train or I’ll go fucking vandalize something or go do drugs somewhere
I’m not supposed to be doing them. It takes me right back to what I’m supposed to be doing.”
That might sound crazy, but only if you don’t know Dax. Underneath the bevy of tattoos and behind the chiseled face is that 8-year-old kid riding MARTA for the first time and falling in love with graffiti. Today, stands the man who seemingly can’t be defined, created a life and hustle all his own, and even having a friend at every art show, music label, strip club and trap, Dax fits in everywhere and nowhere at the same time. Hence, the aforementioned being the “only fucker” in his “realm” anecdote.
“Think like a child,” he tells me. “You’ve got to have something that gets you off, or you might as well not be here. I’ve always been looking for mini glorious moments. I’ve collected tons of them and that’s awesome.”