Wittfooth’s large body of work is primarily set within a seemingly post-apocalyptic world or at the very least a world where humans have lost their foothold as the dominant species.
For that matter, there is nary a mortal to be seen, only the crumbling detritus that has been left in their wake. Despite this rather forlorn description, Wittfooth’s works burst with confidence that man’s follies will be overrun by nature’s persistent reclamation.
Though human absence in the transition might seem tragic, the ultimate outcome is a world filled with resilient creatures standing in defiance against their assumed extinction.
Wittfooth meticulously composes his work with paper and pencil so the composition is set when painting begins. He then spends countless days layering oil paints, slowly allowing the “mise en scène” to emerge. He shared his methodic beginning-to-end process with Hi-Fructose in a step-by-step photo essay featuring, “The Great Parade of the Unwashed.“ (below)
Wittfooth was kind enough to grant an interview. Below are five question I ask every artist.
What artists or creative person has influenced you?
There have been and are too many for me to list at once, but I’ll mention a few of the top ones that I look at regularly:
Fine artists: Flemish still life painters of the 17th and 18th centuries, specifically Jan Weenix and Jan van Huysum. Diego Velazquez and Jan van Dyck, John Everett Millais and J W Waterhouse, Albert Bierstadt. Fast forward in time to contemporary painters, and if I were to name just three to keep this list from getting out of hand, I would say Odd Nerdrum, Walton Ford, and Phil Hale.
Not including other artists or art, what inspires you?
Many books, both fiction and non-fiction, are very inspiring. Even though they may not perhaps give me specific visual ideas (though sometimes they do just that), good literature can be very influential on my work. Some books I recently read that were very inspiring were Midnight’s Children and The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie, The End of Faith and the Moral Landscape by Sam Harris, The Road by Cormac McCarthy and a collection of short stories by Paul Bowles called The Delicate Prey.
I listen to a lot of music when I work, too, in a really broad range of genres. Traveling – which is something I’m fortunate to do by the nature of my work – can be extremely inspirational.
What is the part of your process you enjoy the most?
Getting into a really good groove with a painting: when the composition is generally well worked out and all that I’m focused on is the act of building up the piece.
… the least?
Packing and shipping.
If you were NOT an artist, what would you be doing?
Well, an artist of a different sort: I’d love to write and direct films.
An incredibly, in-depth interview was conducted at the fantastic art blog “Erratic Phenomena.” You can read the interview in it’s entirety here. Below are a few excerpts.
EP: I understand you try to paint a portrait a week in order to hone your skills. Do you think we will be seeing the results of those figurative workouts in a gallery setting in the future, or will portraiture remain an exercise for you?
MW: Portraiture has turned out to be hugely important in my development as an oil painter. Painting from life is the only way to really understand such things as how light behaves on tangible form, and has informed me a great deal about the importance of such things as subtlety, patience (I paint layer-on-layer), and the delicate handling of atmospheric effects. This is most definitely something I will continue to practice for as long as I can, and lately I have begun to think that at some point in the potentially near future, I’ll probably include some of these portrait paintings in a show, if only to display one aspect of where I’m coming from.
EP: Do you see yourself as advancing a moral or political message, or is apocalypse a metaphor for something more subtle? What about this concept compels you?
MW: I’ve adopted this theme as a personal response to the variety of disturbing issues the earth is ravaged by, collective fears (often manufactured by political agendas), and the alarming predictions some of the world’s smartest people have made for our future. I feel the need to try and process this tension through my paintings, with the hope that on some level it can contribute to the dialogue, trying to reinterpret some of these heavy issues on the symbolic playing field of the canvas.
EP: What inspired the prominence of damaged animals in your work, and what does it signify for you?
MW: In my work – which reflects my feelings of the real world as well – animals are involuntary players on a stage that we’ve created, victims and witnesses of our pursuits of power and “progress.” I feel that on the whole, we’re largely ignorant and complacent about the global havoc we’re creating with regards to the natural realm. Perhaps less now that we’re getting a steady dose of harrowing news about such things as dead-zone lakes of trash collectively the size of the United States growing in the oceans, daily additions to the extinct-species list, and countless other such cheerful bits.
MW (cont.): Yet the vast majority of people seem to turn a blind eye to these things. This is disturbing to me, but I can understand it from the standpoint of wanting to shield oneself from depression and a feeling of helplessness and hopelessness in the face of the overwhelming number of these problems. Unfortunately, our detachment from nature has created a massive lack of empathy for the co-inhabitants of the planet. The atrocious, faceless machine that is factory farming is an example of this, and the paradox of the meat produced in this fashion being made into a variety of “comfort foods” hasn’t escaped me.
EP: Buses and refrigerators are a recurring motif in your work. What do they symbolize for you, and how did they come to take such a prominent role in your vision?
MW: Abandoned, moored buses and refrigerators share one element that I love to paint – oxidized metal, rust, and peeling paint. From a symbolic perspective, these abandoned relics suggest a lack of direction and the futility of humanity’s obsession with self-preservation.
The Fish Market, 54” x 32”, 2010
In previous works, Wittfooth often placed oversized animals into a decaying landscape almost as lords of this strange new domain. He stated, “In exploring the idea of animals inhabiting a world that we’ve abandoned, I gradually found myself playing with their scale in relation to their surroundings.”
It would seem by his work and the answers above, that Wittfooth is steeped in seriousness, but that is not quite true. This Fecal Face Studio Visit allows a behind-the-scenes glimpse into a life that is full of verve and vigor. Worth noting, Wittfooth’s extraordinarily talented studio mate is painter Billy Norrby – his work is also shown in the Fecal face visit. It is well worth your time to check out Norrby’s work too.
Wittfooth has a lot happening now and in the future….
His painting “The Devil’s Playground” was featured in Martin’s “Gardens” exhibition that took place at Roq la Rue, and will soon be a limited edition print at Virtu Art Gallery. Most notably it has made the cover of the current New American Paintings issue number 92.
The Devil’s Playground, 48” x 36”, 2010
The painting “Memento” is currently showing at Dorothy Circus Gallery (Rome, Italy) as part of the group show “EAU DE PARFUM” through April 16th.
He will be showing the painting “Spring” at the Hi-Fructose Group Magazine Invitational Group Show at Roq la Rue in Seattle, WA. March 11 – April 14th.
And he will be participating in the group show INLE, curated by Greg “Craola” SImkins’ at Gallery 1988: LA. Over 100 artists will interpret the anti-hero (The Black Rabbit of Inle) from Richard Adams’ novel Watership Down. The opening is 3/11/11 from 7-10pm.
Wittfooth’s work embodies the metaphoric Phoenix rising from the ashes, though admittedly, the moments captured by his brush represent a still a soot-covered bird. His unabashed portrayal of the mindless destruction of man stands in sharp contrast to the expressive beauty of his animal subjects. This delicate balance makes their struggles all the more poignant. It’s not always easy to be shown the truth, yet Wittfooth has an eloquence that lets even the harshest realities seem less bitter.
You may view a complete portfolio on Wittfooth’s website.
Thank you for your time, Martin!