Joel-Peter Witkin was born in Brooklyn in 1939. Drafted in 1961, he was a combat photographer in Vietnam until 1964. In 1967, he became the official photographer for City Walls Inc. He received a bachelor’s degree in sculpture from Cooper Union in 1974. During this period Columbia University granted him a scholarship in poetry but he finished his graduate studies at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, where he received both an M.A. and an M.F.A.
Brutal and often shocking work by Witkin is always challenging, provocative and disturbing, not sparing of the viewer’s nerves and emotions. Artist’s style can be conventionally defined as baroque surrealism: repulsing reality in its darkest incarnations, the artist sublimates it as far as it literally loses its original meaning and is perceived by us as an abstract embodiment of the author’s unique vision.
Witkin’s entire oeuvre is a constant search for visual boundaries between Beauty and Ugliness, Life and Death, Normalcy and Perversity. Could these boundaries be one of the delusions replicated by mankind for centuries? Frightening and impressive at the same time, the artist’s world shatters our established notions of aesthetics and tolerance, bringing the diversity of human expressions to the point of absurdity. His photography possesses an extraordinary inner energy, constantly entering a dialogue with the Old Masters – Goya, Fuseli, Bosch, Blake and Géricault.
Before starting the work in his studio, Witkin creates a traditional sketch on paper, working out compositional details. After the shooting, he refines the negatives by scratching expressive patterns on its surface and coloring them with a pigment. The result is dramatic, grotesque black and white imagery. Complemented by exquisite frames, the photographs combine the elements of comedy and horror at the same time.
“I do not intend to create something shocking, sensational or immoral. On the contrary, my work speaks about the beauty of life and its frailty, about morality and even about immortality.” – Joel-Peter Witkin
The artist’s work is included in the collections of museums and art institutions such as:
Museum of Modern Art (New York, USA)
Museum of Fine Arts (Boston, USA)
Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, USA)
San Francisco Museum of Art (USA)
J.Paul Getty Museum (Los Angeles, USA)
The National Gallery of Art (Washington, USA)
Victoria and Albert Museum (London, UK)
Centre Georges Pompidou (Paris, France)
Biblioteque Nationale (Paris, France)
Stedelijk Museum (Amsterdam, Netherlands)
Centro de Arte Reina Sofia (Madrid, Spain)
High Museum of Art (Atlanta, USA)
Walker Art Center (Minneapolis, USA)
Kansas City Art Institute (USA)
Princeton Art Museum (USA)
George Eastman House (New York, USA)
Akron Art Museum (USA)
University of Arizona (USA)
Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Art (Japan)