‘My purpose is to acknowledge the wonder of being part of Creation.
Though myself I don’t create anything, I make from what has been created’
Joel Peter Witkin

While the global pandemic seem to spread at a very high speed, when the international media does not stop bombarding us with the head-spinning information on the thousands of new cases of infected people every day
and countries, one after another deciding for the second lockdown many of us may feel overwhelmed and confused. Where is this going? When it is going to end?

As a result of these disturbing events many of us don’t know anymore how
to keep up the good spirit and stay away from the all-pervasive negativity.

What makes it all worse – in the near, forseeable future there seem to be no end of this growing, global drama.

But here is the is an important reminder. No matter how hard it all gets, we all have to keep going and not lose our hope for better days to come.

Joel Peter Witkin, Face Of A Woman,Marseilles, 2004

Anticipating long months spent in isolation, which for many of us means being basically alone at home, working in the space surrounded by the same artworks, the same walls it’s quite important we stick to certain routines but also keep an agenda open for the unexpected,exciting things life.

Looking into the outside world through the same windows, with no access to concerts, cinemas, events, art exhibitions – it seems quite important we all find a way to entertain ourselves and turn to something that could become our light in the dark and a ‘safe heaven’.

Philippe Bousquet, Midnight Summer Dream, Southern Guild Gallery

It is necessary we redesign once more the way we live, the way we balance our work time and leisure time, make room for the ‘culutral activities’ – while nurturing the most important relationships in our lives (including the one we have with ourselves).

Joel Peter Witkin, ‘Still Life Mexhico’, Etheron Gallery

As far I am concerned, I know that regardless of all the pandemic going on, regardless of any difficult and challneging political situation taking place in the outside world (such as for example the anti-abortion law being introduced in Poland right now), there is something very important and dear to me that has the power to lift me up and help me appraciate life and its everlasting victory over death.

Joel Peter Wikin, Head on a Stick What is Poetry When We See So Little 2002
Philippe Bousquet, ‘The Throne/Detail’, 2020, Southern Guild Gallery

As you may already know – that precious escape and distraction to me is and has always been Art.

Joel Peter Witkin, ‘La Giovanissima’, Paris, 2007

Immersing myself in the artistic process or the artist life, finding new ‘jewels’ – reading articles on them, visiting online exhibition somehow keeps me busy in the right way, sparks my own creativity while keeping me distracted from the stresses of COVID-19.

Philippe Bousquet, ‘Angel au Demon I’, 2020, Private Collection
Philippe Bousquet, ‘The Throne/Detail’, 2020, Southern Guild Gallery

One of my recent, most sensational artistic discoveries – that I’d like to share with you are connected to two artists – Joel Peter Witkin and Phillippe Bousquet.

Joel-Peter Witkin (1939) is an American artist whose constructed photographs depict macabre often grotesque scenes.
What makes this particular photographer stand out from the crowd is the masterful ability to carefully build scenes with all that’s unusual, surprising and intriguing. He chooses cadavers, hermaphrodites, and dwarfs as his models and muses which introduces all kind of literary,religious, and art historical allusions.

Joel Peter Witkin, Self-Portrait, Private Collection

‘If there is pain in my photographs, it relates tot he pain of my own existence’
Joel Peter Witkin

Joel Peter Witkin, Idolatry in Vaccua, NM, 2002, Etherton Gallery

For more than twenty years, Joel-Peter Witkin has pursued his interest in spirituality and how it impacts the physical world. This is how he speaks of his own artistry:

“I have with the hope of one day seeing it all.
Seeing in its total form, while wearing the mask, from the distance of death. And there, in the eternal destiny, to seek the face I had before the world was made.”

Joel Peter Witkin, ‘Night In A Small Town, New Mexico’, 2007,Bruce Silverstein Gallery
Philippe Bousquet, Moonlight in the Garden, 2019, Southern Guild Gallery

Witkin is a controvential artist – whose work is loved by many art admirers and collectors for his daring creations of surreal tableaux with which he
seeks to dismantle our preconceived notions about sexuality, about the cliches of what’s truly divine and what’s profane – and with his art he seems to ask a question – what’s beauty?

Can we easily say with no hesitation there is no beauty in the raw and in the obscure? And the ones in our society who were born different, deformed – shall we all pretend they don’t exist and they are God’s mistake? Witkins works seem to say – there is more to this world than we see in perfectly photoshoped glossy magazines, there is more to life than the perfect families we see in the adverisements of cereal or cleaning products.

Joel Peter Witkin,Empire, 2009, Etherton Gallery

Additionally, the artist work seem to raise a question – is there are a way we stop for a while and notice we are in fact all the same at the core of our being, or is it better just to look away?

Philippe Bousquet, Southern Guild Gallery

While I was researching on this photographers, I was particularly interested to find out what does his artistic process look like.

And this is what I found.

“Witkin begins each image by sketching his ideas on paper and perfecting every detail before he picks up his camera.

Peter Joel Witkin, Night In A Small Town, Study

Once the scene is photographed, he spends hours in the darkroom, scratching and piercing his negatives, transforming them into pictures that look made rather than taken. From their conception to their completion as ornate constructions, his references to traditional art historical iconography
serve as a backdrop to his subjects and as a foundation for his ideas.”

(source: International Phtography Magazine)

History of the white world Venus and the Magdalen, 1984, Etherton Gallery

Today Witkins works can be found in the collections of The Museum of Modern Art in New York,the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, the National Gallery in Washington, D.C., the Victoria and Albert Museum in London,and the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris.The artist currently lives and works in Albuquerque, NM.

Joel Peter Witkin, Imperfect Thirst, 2016, William Mora Galleries

While Witkin succesfuly displays on his photography the common thread of the sacred within the profane and the profane within the sacred and approaches these complex issues by working with the people most often cast aside by society in an unapologetic presentation of deformity – his artistic ‘brother in arm/arts’, the French Artist Philippe Bousquet (1964) seems to add another perspective, another point of view to the Witkins legacy.

How does he acheive that? By creating astonishing, otherwordly sculptures and installations that bring to mind scenes known from the Medieval, Hieronym Bosch scenes while still being modern and contemporary.

Philippe Bousquet, Relative-Dimension, Southern Guild Gallery

Bousquet, A European with a South-African spirit seems to be fighting on the same, ‘artistic’ side as Witkin.

Portrait of Philippe Bousquet, Private Collection

What I have found trhough my long conversations with the artist – in his atelier there are hundreds of ‘homeless, God-forsaken objects’ that he treasures and collects almost as if they already had the status of a priceless piece of art.

Philippe Bousquet, Transformation, Private Colletion

The artis stores the damaged, one-eyed dollies, the shabby-looking angels, the torn apart pieces of furniture,the incomplete watches, the damaged statues or sculptures, broken devices. On thing is sure – the artist must have got something very interesting planned for them. A totally new destiny.

What I find most incredible about Bousquet way of seeing – it that he finds a living spirit within ‘the long dead or physically disabled items’.

The same way Witkin puts spotlight to the outcasts, the deformed, disabled and ‘unwanted’ – Bousquet mends what’s broken and brings together what the time and changing fashion ‘doomed to fail’. This is how both artists allow us, the viewers, to notice the perfection within the inperfection.

Philippe Bousquet, Sense of Eternity, Southern Guild

Philippe transitioned to the world of art and design in 1997, after years of being a professional architect.
Based in France, he began his career working with precious metals and materials, but after moving to South Africa in 2004, he became increasingly aware of the negative effects of mining on people, communities and the environment.

Out of a desire to create beautiful objects without causing harm, he built his first object out of scrap metal in 2008 and since then has expanded to use other waste materials and found objects. Affiliated to the Southern Guild, one of the major South African art galleries,Philippe has exhibited widely with them. (source: NDI Gallery)

For Bousquet, whose artistic preferences undoubtedly move towards assembly and conceptual and abstract art and recently also
towards photography- there is eternity living within the old and used objects and there is parallel life that these object have, that life connects the invisable with the visable.

When Bousquet gets down to work in his speacious atelier in the sunny and warm South-African Pretoria, he seems to be interested in just one thing – and that is to give the the objects he creates’another chance in life’.

Through his skillful craftmanship and artistic eye he is
breathing new energy into the objects which no longer belong the bygone times only.

Philippe Bousquet, Southern Guild Gallery

What’s thrown away is being rediscovered, noticed and acknowledged for what is’t been before and loved for what it could be in the future, receiving from the g heart of the artist another chance to live, this time as as a piece of art.

When I was doing my online resarch on the two fascinating artists, ther was this one dream, one vision that appeared in my mind.

After all this global pandemic hell is over – I wish that Witkin and Bousquet would meet one day, have chance to shake hands and speak of an exhibition where their works would be presented together, sharing the same exhibition space. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?

From what I noticed by now Witkin and Bousquet have two fundamental things in common – they both realize so well that “cration didn’t stop on the sixth day‘ and could both easily live “in the world populated by the bizarre, disjunctive things’.

I hope that after reading this article you will share my awe and admiration for an art that while created sepraratly from one another – from distant locations use the same, deeply moving artistic language .