Joel-Peter Witkin: Journeys of the Soul

As Witkin noted in a 2010 interview, “The body is the armor of the soul.” The subjects of Witkin’s images – the body, the nude, the still life – are controversial, because Witkin finds as much beauty in the grotesque. Etherton Gallery celebrates the gallery’s 40th anniversary with the exhibition, Joel-Peter Witkin: Journeys of the Soul. The exhibition runs until November 27, 2021. Terry Etherton has represented Witkin since 1988, only a few years after he opened his eponymous gallery.

Joel-Peter Witkin
Anna Akhmatova, 1998
toned gelatin silver print
30" x 40"
9/12
signed, titled, dated, and numbered (9/12) verso

“On this 40th Anniversary, inaugurating our new space at 340 South Convent Avenue with an exhibition of Joel-Peter Witkin’s work is a fitting tribute to both the gallery’s and Joel’s legacy, and our longstanding friendship,” said Terry Etherton.

Joel-Peter Witkin
Prudence, 1996/2021
encaustic gelatin silver print
16" x 14"
Unique
signed

The exhibition is a career survey featuring rare and iconic photographs and drawings made over the last four decades. Before he picks up his camera, Joel-Peter Witkin puts his ideas down on paper and makes a series of preliminary sketches. He is known for fabricating elaborate sets to be photographed. It can take weeks or even months before he has found models and built the sets. As a result, he makes few photographs per year and makes only a limited number of his sumptuous prints. After he makes a photograph, Witkin goes into the darkroom; he takes tremendous risks with his master negative, scraping, tearing, sanding, writing, and scratching its surface. Witkin also works the surface of his prints, finishing them with paint, retouching, cutting, collaging and hand-coloring them with encaustic. As a result, although Witkin editions his photographs, no two are exactly alike. As he said in 2017, “I printed it myself because, that for me, is the decisive moment: you can change the meaning of a photograph by how you print it.”

Joel-Peter Witkin
Bee-Boy, 1982
toned gelatin silver print

16" x 20"
AP1
signed

As Witkin noted in a 2010 interview, “The body is the armor of the soul.” The subjects of Witkin’s images – the body, the nude, the still life – are controversial, because Witkin finds as much beauty in the grotesque – for example Head of a Dead Man, which references Italian Renaissance portraits of John the Baptist -- as he does the exquisite women who inhabit his photographs -- as in La Giovanissima, a portrait of the wife of an art dealer whom Witkin met in Milan, which refers to Raphael’s painting, Portrait of a Young Woman or La Fornarina, c. 1518-19, a portrait of Raphael’s lover and muse, Margerita Luti. Most western male artists have personified beauty in the form of a noncisgender white woman, but Witkin unravels these stereotypes.

Joel-Peter Witkin
Gods and Heaven and Earth, Los Angeles, 1988
signed, titled, dated, numbered (11/15) verso in pencil

Using the non-mainstream body, Witkin addresses tensions between heaven and hell, sexuality and death and multiple notions of beauty. His models, found through random encounters and classified ads, are often deformed and include amputees, cadavers, little people, sadomasochists, transexuals, and beautiful women. Through them he points out social, religious and political contradictions in contemporary culture, incorporating a “history of conscience” into his images. For example, Witkin understands that a sculpture is always admired even if limbs are missing, whereas a handicapped person arouses feelings of uncertainty and shame. In many ways, Joel-Peter Witkin has made a space for disabled and trans people, confronting the viewer with the act of reclaiming these bodies, as political, and social subjects.

Joel-Peter Witkin
Head of a Dead Man, Mexico City, 1990
toned gelatin silver print

16" x 20", edition AP3
30" x 40", edition 13/15
signed

Witkin’s vanitas and memento mori images have their precursors in the work of the great Romantic painter, Théodore Géricault, who painted dismembered bodies of condemned prisoners, and the mentally ill inmates of the Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital in Paris. In the end, following in the footsteps of these and other great artists, Witkin upends convention, creating his own thoughtful meditation on the human condition.

Joel-Peter Witkin
Madame X, 1981
toned gelatin silver print

20" x 16"
16" x 20", edition 2/15
32" x 30", edition AP3
signed, titled, numbered verso in pencil

Joel-Peter Witkin: Journeys of the Soul

until November 27, 2021

Etherton Gallery
340 South Convent Avenue, Arizona, 85701

 

Since 1981, Etherton Gallery has showcased the icons of the history of photography as well as the contemporary artists changing its course. Our exhibitions highlight the most important figures in the history of the medium and we remain dedicated to making great works of photography accessible to novices and experienced collectors alike. A champion of the arts of the Southwest and in particular Tucson, the gallery also exhibits top local and regional artists working in a variety of media, and presents free exhibition programs that address related local and national issues. Etherton Gallery is a long-standing member of the Association of International Photography Art Dealers (AIPAD) and participates in fine art photography fairs including the AIPAD Photography Show NY, Classic Photographs LA, and Paris Photo.

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