Thursday, August 8, 2013
Influences: Joel-Peter Witkin
If Frida Kahol influences the very personal aspect that my artwork takes on, then it's the photography of Albuquerque, New Mexico's Joel-Peter Witkin who molds the dark, scary, and often disturbing figures that usually shows up in my works. I've often joked that my drawings and paintings have a tendency to “scare little kids,” and I'm certain that those whom have seen my art can more than the likely say the same thing. Well, in many ways it was the influence of Witkin's artwork who guided me in that direction.
For those who aren't familiar Witkin's photography, they often deal with themes of death, corpses, and various “outsiders.” His models are primary dwarfs, amputees, and individuals whom are physically deformed. Witkin often places them in a cryptic setting, while various skulls, religious crosses, weird masks, limbs, and other creepy things fill the background.
As I've mentioned a few times here in my column, being born with Marfan Syndrome often made me feel like an outcast and an outsider. The physical characteristics of people with Marfan's are usually skinny, tall, with long arms and thin fingers. Coupled with being in and out of hospitals, the condition always made me feel as if I didn't belong. So when I first saw Witkin's photography, it made me think of all these people with different types of disabilities and it captured a sense of beauty for me. Even though his work can be viewed as extremely disturbing there is a sense of calmness and an classic elegance to it. In fact, much of Joel-Peter Witkin's pieces are reminiscent of classical paintings and there is often a lot of religious imagery that doesn't insult but celebrates it. It just happens to be in his own twisted way.
Despite that he photographs people with physical disabilities, his work never exploits them. In fact, many if not all of his models have said he is one of the most respectful people ever. His work doesn't try demonize or shame them, instead it honors what society deems weird and odd. It embraces “the strange” and just as I do.
**Originally published in Spanish in the August 3rd, 2013 issue of Antesala