A challenging of culture, a culture which wants to negate, almost perversely, intense human dramas, wants to banalize them into kitsch and either sit-com them on the laugh track or shoot it full of holes like real men. There is little space for the nightmare situations and symbols of vulnerability in a world of anxieties. Jerome Witkin’s juxtaposes grim scenes with optimistic splashes of paint which contributes to a hallucinatory quality; a will to meaning in an absurd fantasy that is also real; the frightingly real experience of being within the Other.
Many works often explore issues of spirituality and inner landscapes – looking directly from his life experiences. One example involves his father who died at age fifty, after living several years homeless on the streets. In an effort to understand his father better he began to look at his Jewish history and in particular, the Holocaust. This resulted in a series of monumental works about the Holocaust done over a twenty-three years….My father was a homeless man. He failed in his business. He failed in two marriages. He tried to commit suicide. He was mugged to death in a park in Brooklyn. You couldn’t find him, and all that stuff. My father was a very sad case of not succeeding in anything. But at the same time, as a homeless man, where homeless people look alike, it’s usually very sad. And they are open to being hurt by other people….Read More:http://paintingperceptions.com/figure-painting/jerome-witkin/6
A need to pry open heavy dark doors; like grave robbing or the nightmarish haunted house. The mystery of the crypt. And behind these doors is a search for salvation, though the odds are like to compel one to believe in failure and despair, there is sometimes a force that slogs on, against the odds; to be willing to confront the heaviest and blackest door: the holocaust. Witkin is on record as aaying the holocaust did not end in 1945, but, “in every moment from that time onwards forever.” Understanding the emptiness in which the victims deaths held no meaning. They had no choices, no option of martyrdom no purpose in the perish.
…One of the modern assumptions of realism—an assumption traceable to Courbet in the nineteenth century—is that a focus on “reality” should displace religion. Terminal, however, is an example of realist art which works to engage religious belief. Courbet’s famous line, “Show me an angel, and I’ll paint one,” was meant to dismiss religious inventions which falsify the real experience of life. In Terminal, Witkin accepts the absence of an angel, but he goes on to create a work which is a veritable religious icon for the Jewish community. We expect a cattle car bound for Auschwitz to be crammed with desperate people, but here the door is being opened (or closed) on a solitary human being who seems to glow like one of Daniel’s companions in the fiery furnace where an angel was seen standing with them. In the absence of angels our focus on this one person’s particularity causes us to see more clearly the dark spiritual forces at work, here set against a divine presence embodied in this man….
…The cattle car in Terminal is indeed a parallel to the fiery furnace that Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar prepared for the Jews Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. But in Terminal the fire that burns is in our own imaginations, and the fuel is our knowledge of the Holocaust blended with the simple subject matter we see here. Again, Witkin has meticulously rendered details, not as demonstrations of technique, but as insoluble elements which contain both beauty and sorrow….
Salvation. It involves a multi-layered and complex meaning in our world, a significance which does not necessarily conclude with the fanfare of divine grace, the guitar solo deliverance on the wings of angels from nasty sin and damnation; or even a redemption by the grace of an all powerful god. No, the post-modern salvation as Kafka foresaw was fairly nebulous in form, self-serving, cunning, and imbued with guile. Like the expression “if you’re not cheating you’re not trying.” The victory of the mundane that paralyzes and enfeebles ideas of the holy and a more integral contemplation of the divine. In its ideal sense, salvation would encompass a sense of inclusion, achievement and belonging. Something meaningful that is not based on self-interest and self preservation. What some would call the gnostic demons encircling the search.
…A pile of shoes in the background; suitcases; the young man’s own heavy boots which have no laces; a bulging canvas sack next to a small collection of straw on the floor; the young man’s passive gesture, hands clasped together on his lap; his serene face, lit on the left with pale, cool light which contrasts with and intensifies the glowing warmth of the right side of his face—these things resonate with the impending doom suggested by the two fists clasping the steel door pull and by the dark heavy underworkings of the train at the bottom of the picture. The brilliant white and dense black geometric shapes of torn papers and other material on the back of the car already create an optical flicker; the young man’s head already
a glowing ember. The star of David pinned over the man’s heart is the visual center of the painting. This frayed symbol at the heart of it all pleads the question: “Where is God?” Read More:http://imagejournal.org/page/journal/articles/issue-11/sheesley-essay
The Nazis had so-called ”brownhouses,” and they would pull in Jews or Communists or people who were homosexuals and beat them to death. There was a whole litany of people being forced to watch somebody being killed or raped. Why these things happen and why people do these things, I don’t know, but I think they tap into a kind of cultural madness. If this society continues to the next two thousand years, people will be looking at the twentieth century and saying, “What did artists do about the strange goings-on?” Read More:http://sunsite.utk.edu/witness/artists/witkin/