Joel-Peter Witkin by Chris Hall

Joel-Peter Witkin (born 1939) is an American photographer, living in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  His photography celebrates the grotesque and society's outsiders, as he often uses dwarves, transsexuals, inter-sex persons, and the physically deformed as models.  His complex tableaux often recall religious themes, sex, death, and classical paintings. 

Witkin was born to a Jewish father and Roman Catholic mother, who soon split because of they were unable to overcome their religious differences.  His twin brother, Jerome Witkin, and his son Kersen Witkin, are also painters.  Between 1961 and 1964, Witkin was a war photographer documenting the Vietnam War.  He attended Cooper Union in New York where he studied sculpture, attaining a Bachelor Arts degree in 1974.  Later he would get his Master of Fine arts degree from the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque.  Witkin claims that his photographic sensibility springs from an event he witnessed as a young child, an automobile accident in front of his house in which a little girl was decapitated:

“It happened on a Sunday when my mother was escorting my twin brother and me down the steps of the tenement where we lived. We were going to church. While walking down the hallway to the entrance of the building, we heard an incredible crash mixed with screaming and cries for help. The accident involved three cars, all with families in them. Somehow, in the confusion, I was no longer holding my mother's hand. At the place where I stood at the curb, I could see something rolling from one of the overturned cars. It stopped at the curb where I stood. It was the head of a little girl. I bent down to touch the face, to speak to it -- but before I could touch it someone carried me away.”

Witkin's favorite artist is the early Italian Renaissance painter Giotto.  His photographic techniques draw on early Daguerreotypes and on the work of E. J. Bellocq, who also specialized in photos of society's outsiders.  Bellocq is known for his haunting photographic portraits of Storyville prostitutes in New Orleans and images of life in the opium dens in the early 20th century.  Like William Mortensen (a fellow champion of the grotesque), Witkin also uses techniques to manipulate the image, such as scratching the negative, bleaching and toning the print, and a hands-in-chemical printing process.

Witkin also uses corpses and body parts in his photographic arrangements.  I have not posted any of these photographs (interesting though they may be to look at) as I believe the dead should be respected and not used for art (documentation in war photography is another subject all together, and the ethics even here are in a moral gray zone).  To get around restrictive US laws, Witkin creates his photography using the dead in Mexico.

Many critics have come out to label Witkin's transgressive photography as exploitative, made to purposefully shock a weak stomached, bourgeois public.  Corpses and body parts aside (the dead have no choice as to whether or not to be included in art), I believe that Witkin's use of subjects that society would rather ignore is a noble occupation with a long tradition, from Diego Velazquez to Pablo Picasso.  Showcasing society's outcasts and outsiders in art forces people to acknowledge their own prejudices and hypocrisies.  And once you get past the initial shock of the grotesque and unfamiliar, many of Witkin's photographs can become quite beautiful.

Joel-Peter Witkin's work was the major source of inspiration (along with Francis Bacon) for Mark Romanek's video for the Nine Inch Nails song Closer.

Acrylic vs Oil Paint by Chris Hall

Oil paint is kind of sacred and holy; it is something you love and have a relationship with, something you spend time with.  You get to know the smells and moody characteristics of Oil paint in an intimate, familiar way, and the color is richer, deeper.

Acrylic is for fast and cheap thrills.  Like a whore, it is something you can use and abuse, as the medium is very forgiving.  Acrylic is made of plastic and so it can be a bit superficial.  Yes, she'll do things that oil paint won't do, but the color is less vibrant, less saturated, and not as luminous.  

I guess what paint you choose really depends on what kind of relationship you want to have with your paint, who you would rather have in the sack, so to speak.  We all know that making art is kind of like sex.  I'm just extending the metaphor.  Since 2006, I've spent most of my time with Acrylic paint.  Lately, though, I've been missing the intimacy, the color, and the smell of Oils.  It is an investment of time, but I think I'll revisit Oils as soon as I have a studio to paint in again.  

Picasso's Erotic Art by Chris Hall

Picasso dressed as Minotaur.

Picasso dressed as Minotaur.

“Art is never chaste. It ought to be forbidden to ignorant innocents, never allowed into contact with those not sufficiently prepared. Yes, art is dangerous. Where it is chaste, it is not art.”  Pablo Picasso.

Picasso, like Klimt, believed that all art is erotic.  It is an interesting argument, one that I might have subscribed to in Picasso's time, before the proliferation of overly intellectualized, sterile, and cold conceptual art.  While all art in Picasso's time might have been erotic, this did not prevent Picasso from producing drawings depicting overt sexuality.  Here are some little drawings of Picasso's that I've managed to track down, dating from 1902 to 1968. 

Sexuality and Erotic Art by Chris Hall

Christopher Hall,  Bow Legged Goddess Figure .

Christopher Hall, Bow Legged Goddess Figure.

Gustav Klimt and Pablo Picasso both said “All art is erotic.”  The drive to create and the sexual impulse is remarkably similar; it is defined by passion.  I think eroticism and sexuality are two different things, though they frequently overlap.  Erotic art needn't always be sexually explicit; a line can be sensual and color can be passionate, for example.  Sexuality, however, while frequently erotic, can also veer off into crude pornography, or scientific, medical investigation.

Eroticism can have a real spiritual depth.  There is nothing more erotic, to me, than gazing into the eyes of a lover, peering into the depths of their soul.  But this kind of erotic expression, this kind of love, is almost impossible to render in figurative art.  In my art I reserve this kind of eroticism, this kind of sensuality, for abstract expression, or for more formal qualities (such as line and color).

What follows are some of my drawings depicting or suggesting sexuality, which may or may not be erotic, depending your taste.  It should be noted that I sometimes find expressions of sexuality to be ridiculous and funny, and this attitude is often reflected in my work which has a penchant toward the “inappropriate.”  I do not find much of anything sexual to be inappropriate.  There is nothing wrong with sexuality; it is what makes us adults and human beings.  We should celebrate our sexuality, rather than be ashamed of it.  My erotic/sexual art is, of course, a celebration of sexuality, but also a criticism of puritanical tendencies in our society, and at times, a criticism of sexual exploitation and its vulgar, overuse in advertisement.  

"Why should I be ashamed to describe what nature was not ashamed to create?"   Pietro Aretino

"If you bring your sexual impulses to your creative work... you'll be working from deep in the genetic code, down where life wants to make new life and feel good in the process."  Eric Maisel

"The artist's experience lies so unbelievably close to the sexual, to its pain and its pleasure, that the two phenomena are really just different forms of one and the same longing and bliss."  Rainer Maria Rilke

"I can always be distracted by love, but eventually I get horny for my creativity."  Gilda Radner

"Erotic symbols are part of nature in their aspect of fertility and creativity and, as such, are an inherent part of Man's own needs and drive."  Bela Fidel 

"Aesthetic emotion puts man in a state favorable to the reception of erotic emotion... Art is the accomplice of love. Take love away and there is no longer art."  Remy de Gourmont 

"There is a connection between art and sex, with arousal in one realm speaking to arousal in another."  Laura Jacobs

"Even the most innocent of images can send subliminal messages of an erotic nature."  Julie Rodriguez Jones  

"The difference between pornography and erotica is lighting."  Gloria Leonard 

"Being sexy is kind of funny to me."  Reba McEntire

"It is sexual energy which governs the structure of human feeling and thinking."  Wilhelm Reich

"The difference between eroticism and pornography is one of art."  Andre Salvet 

"I do not deny that I have made drawings and watercolors of an erotic nature. But they are always works of art. Are there no artists who have done erotic pictures?"  Egon Schiele

"I am an abstract artist in the sense that I abstract. I cannot be called non-figurative while I am still interested in the modern magic of space, primitive sex forms, the sensual and erotic, disconcerting contours, the things of life."  William Scott 

"The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it."   Oscar Wilde

"To deny sex is to deny life. To reject art is to impoverish yourself, rejecting pleasure and growth. To accept sex and art together is to add to oneself, to be positive instead of negative."  William Rotsler

Early Influences: Schiele and Klimt by Chris Hall

Egon Schiele,  Gustav Klimt in his Blue Painter's Smock , 1913

Egon Schiele, Gustav Klimt in his Blue Painter's Smock, 1913

Egon Schiele and Gustav Klimt (along with Edvard Munch) heavily influenced my drawing during my first two years as a student at the University of Georgia.  In 1995 I even filled an entire sketch book copying Egon Schiele’s work.  I fell in love with their line work which is searching, sensual, and organic, like the very fiber of life.  Below is a little about Schiele and Klimt.  Sometime later I will devote an entire blog post to Edvard Munch.

Egon Schiele

Egon Schiele was an Austrian painter born in 1890.  His work is known for its intensity and its expression of raw sexuality.  His figure drawings and paintings, many of them self-portraits, often have twisted body shapes defined by expressive contour lines.  The work is often suggestive of sex, death, and the grotesque, with a disturbing eroticism bordering on the pornographic.  In 1907 Schiele sought out Gustav Klimt as a mentor, who was impressed with his work enough to help him secure exhibitions and patrons.  As a young artist-bohemian, he lived an unconventional lifestyle that led him to being driven out of one town and being imprisoned in another.  Eventually Schiele decided to settle down and marry Edith Harms in 1915, but three days later he was conscripted for the Austrian Army as the First World War exploded across the continent.  Schiele was lucky to get a reasonably comfortable assignment as guard and clerk in a POW camp in Prague, and Edith was allowed to follow him.  But in the fall of 1918, tragedy came in the form of the Spanish Flu pandemic, which would kill over 20,000,000 people.  First it would take Edith’s life, and then three days later, Egon Schiele’s.  He was 28.  Schiele’s last drawing is of his dying wife.  

Gustav Klimt

Gustav Klimt was an Austrian painter born in 1862.  His work is known for its frank eroticism and decorative elements, often incorporating gold leaf.  The subject of much of his work is women, often in shown in allegorical, symbolist, mythic, and erotic circumstances.  He would also make landscapes and portraiture as well.  Klimt kept his life private, but it was a life marked by sexual hedonism.  He would often dress in a robe and sandals, wearing no undergarments underneath.  Klimt would have many mistresses and would father 14 children.  Early in his career Klimt received many public art commissions, but he would stop taking the commissions after his three paintings for the Great Hall of the University of Vienna were criticized for being pornographic.  These three paintings, Philosophy, Medicine, and Jurisprudence, were later destroyed by retreating Nazi SS forces in May of 1945.  Klimt, like Schiele, would die in 1918, from complications brought on by the Spanish Flu.

The Art of Pompeii by Chris Hall

In 1999 I had the opportunity to tour Pompeii, the Roman city destroyed by Vesuvius in 79 AD.  I had previously seen some of the art in books and also in the museum in Naples, but seeing the art in Pompeii, in situ, had a profound effect upon me.  It was clear to me that the people of Pompeii thought, felt, and expressed themselves in much the same way we 20th Century people do.  Like us they were obsessed with sex, death, spirituality, nature, and capturing portraits for posterity.  Seeing these artworks among the ruins produced in me some strange, meditative thoughts, on life, death, and art, both as record specific to time and as something universal and eternal.  

Below are some images from Pompeii that I deem to be beautiful, in some form or fashion.  

Click the images to enlarge





Animals and Nature