Martin Wittfooth is a painter who lives and works in Brooklyn, NY. He was born in Toronto, Canada in 1981 but spent most of his childhood in Finland. He’s a heck of a painter, with a focus on animals and apocalyptic imagery. He does address religious themes in his work but more from a conceptual point of view than a strictly religious one – I suppose you could say he deals with the same themes religions often deal with.
In an interview regarding his 2011 solo exhibition in NYC at Lyons Weir, “The Passions”, Wittfooth states:
The theme behind The Passions is a bit more specific than my previous series have attempted to tackle. This time around I wanted to start exploring something I’ve spent a fair amount of my time musing over and having ongoing dialogues with people about: the destructive nature of blind faith. Specifically in this series, I’m interested in exploring the idolization of violence, self-sacrifice, and suffering that are central to the faith-based notions of martyrdom and sainthood. Saints and martyrs appear in blood-soaked abundance in the histories and holy texts of the dominant religions of the world, and however civilized and enlightened we may think of ourselves in the 21st Century, we don’t need to strain ourselves all that much to witness and admit that these ideologies are still held sacred by an alarming percentage of the population.
Uh, wow. Pretty heavy, right? Not to say that I am not inclined to like this kind of work, but it’s pretty rare these days to see a representational realist painter working in fine art dealing with these kind of, well, non-conceptual themes. I find it refreshing, to say the least. Having gone through art school myself and being immersed in the prerequisite “ivory tower of academe” approach to meaning in art, it’s heartening to see an artist who hasn’t let the “painting is dead” meme common to contemporary art theory hold him back and even more to the point, it’s heartening to see an artist who doesn’t feel compelled to justify themselves according to conceptualist dialectics.
This is not to say that he doesn’t have a conceptual angle to his work:
The abandoned and decayed remnants of mankind make such a common appearance in my work for a couple of reasons. The first is conceptual, and aims to point at the idea that we, the collective viewer, are still somehow present in these works, yet the rust and decrepitude of these relics suggests their uselessness, and our own abandonment of – and thus helplessness to affect – the scenes that unfold in the paintings. The second reason for conjuring up this imagery on such a regular basis is that I find these textures compelling to paint, and this makes my job less boring. There is a third reason, too, I guess: I live and work in somewhat of an industrial wasteland in Brooklyn, so I never have to venture out very far to find reference.
Having spent my formative teen years in something of an industrial wasteland myself, I can relate. So yes, without any hesitation, I can boldly assert that I love Wittfooth’s work & that it’s all kinds of awesome.
Wittfooth’s next show is at Corey Helford Gallery, Los Angeles, CA, in September.