Etherton Gallery is pleased to announce its first exhibition of its 35th anniversary season, ShadowLands, which features new prints by Alice Leora Briggs and selected photographs by Joel-Peter Witkin and Roger Ballen. The show features three artists whose controversial visions of the world are presented in dark imaginary realms so seductive that as poet Mark Strand (1934-2014) wrote, “you want to saturate yourself with their particular voices.”
ShadowLands runs from September 6 through November 12, 2016. An artist reception and book signing will be held at 7-10pm, Saturday, September 10 at the gallery. The gallery will offer a limited number of books by Briggs and Witkin who will attend the reception and be available to sign books. A limited number of Roger Ballen’s books, including signed copies of Outland (2001) will also be available. In collaboration with the Center for Creative Photography, Joel-Peter Witkin will give a talk at 5:30pm, Friday, September 9 in the auditorium.
“NOT FOR THE TIMID OR EASILY OFFENDED” begins a review for a 2014 Joel-Peter Witkin show in Brussels. Witkin’s work can produce visceral reactions in his viewer. He confronts the irrationality and strangeness of being the world to achieve greater personal insight and spark reflection in the viewer. ShadowLands highlights a selection of recent and classic photographs by Joel-Peter Witkin. The gallery has a long-standing relationship with Witkin that goes back over three decades. Described as the heir to a dark romanticism, Joel-Peter Witkin presents his “history of conscience” through painstakingly constructed tableaux that address a range of controversial subjects in a vocabulary drawn from a deep knowledge of art and photographic history, contemporary events and religion. His photographs are morality plays turned on their head, in which the carriers of beauty, innocence and virtue are often the deformed or those living on the margins -- transsexuals, sadomasochists, dwarfs, amputees, and androgynes met on random encounters or through classified ads. Witkin finds beauty in the grotesque, equal to the exquisite women that also inhabit his photographs. Recontextualizing elements of religious iconography, myth, art history and pop culture into a new whole, he highlights the humanity of his subjects. Early mages such as Head of a Dead Man follow in the steps of Romantic painter, Théodore Géricault, who painted dismembered bodies of condemned prisoners, and the mentally ill inmates of the Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital in Paris. If early images are more visually combative, later work is tender, even humorous at times. Images like Good Americans, When They Die, go to Paris, Bogotá (2011), simultaneously represent the American romantic association with France at the same time that the French place tragedy at the center of their being. Witkin engages his viewer by juxtaposing difficult subjects with exquisite technique. He takes few photographs and makes only a limited number of his sumptuous prints. In the darkroom, he takes tremendous risks with his master negative, scraping, tearing, sanding, writing, and scratching its surface. He also works his prints, finishing them with paint, retouching, cutting, collaging and coating them with encaustic. As he says, “my work is about bringing imagination and possible visual references to a personal objectivity, which decries compromise of all kinds…. presentations of mankind’s splendor and misery in the process of our craving the truth and the courage to live.”
Etherton Gallery is pleased to present a selection of photographs by Roger Ballen made over the course of his career. Ballen, an American, has lived in Johannesburg, South Africa for over forty years. He has published 20 books and his work has been the subject of countless museum exhibitions worldwide. His work has never been in shown in Tucson, let alone the Southwest.
Gallery owner Terry Etherton said, “It is real coup for the gallery to work with such an influential, internationally renowned photographer like Roger Ballen. His work is rarely available in the United States, and we are thrilled to be able to present his work along with Alice Briggs and Joel-Peter Witkin to our Tucson audience.”
Typically after Ballen completes a photographic series, the work is published in book form. Early in his career, Ballen worked in a documentary style and highlighted the plight of rural villages and towns in Dorps, (1986) and poor white communities of suburban Johannesburg suffering under apartheid in Platteland (1994). Images such as Casie and Dresie, twins, Western Transvaal (1993) present a spare and unflinching portrait of two disabled men. While working on his third book, Outland (2001), he began staging his photographs and directing his subjects. His images evolved from documents to darkly imagined spaces inhabited by people who had fallen through the cracks. In images such as Puppy between Feet (1999) and Curled Up (1998), Ballen’s subjects were mentally ill, homeless, criminals, animals, and transients, isolated in rooms often containing enigmatic drawings, sometimes made by them, sometimes by Ballen. Ballen’s recent work replaces human subjects with animals, wires, masks and dolls in photographs such as Take Off (2012), the cover of Asylum of the Birds (2014). Ballen’s interiors suggest the dislocation of his subjects and can evoke a visceral response from the viewer. In addition to drawing and photography, Ballen has also made videos of the controversial South African band, Die Antwoord. Expressing an intention that echoes Witkin’s, Roger Ballen says, “I want pictures to challenge people’s psyche, to challenge their insides. I make images that come out from the dark straight into their faces. There could be beauty and ugliness, humour and tragedy in the same image.” Roger Ballen’s photographs constitute a search to understand his own psyche, but force us to reconsider our own deeply held beliefs.
Etherton Gallery will present a new suite of twelve chine collè woodcuts by Alice Leora Briggs, The Room, an homage to U.S Poet Laureate, Mark Strand, published by Flatbed Press in 2015. Briggs is best known for her narrative sgraffito (scratchboard) drawings, which marry Renaissance technology and artistic style to contemporary subjects. Briggs’ images are composed of words and text. She has worked with writer Charles Bowden on the graphic novel Dreamland: The Way Out of Juarez, about border violence in Juárez, Mexico, and is in the process of completing an “abecedario de Juárez” (Alphabet of Juárez) a glossary of narco slang or criminal slang used in Juárez. In her new work, Briggs trades narrative for interiority; each image corresponds to a line from Strand’s poem. For example, the image paired with the last line of The Room, “where nothing, when it happens, is never terrible enough.” is paired with Briggs’ image of three people drinking tea, unconscious of the disemboweled dead man laying before them on a table. The subjects are tough and yet printed on the chine collé tissue, which is delicate, transparent and ephemeral mirroring Briggs own sentiments: “Whether I am making a sgraffito drawing or a woodcut, I cut white marks into black fields. Each slash throws a spark into dark territory; each mark is a scar. I have a manic duty to botch up surfaces… For me, poetry comes from mortal substance – the physical experience of my body moving through the world and an acute awarenesss that my presence in the world is temporary.”
Shadowlands highlights the work of three artists who confront us with essential truths about the human condition we would rather not acknowledge, while simultaneously drawing us in with the visual poetry of their work.
For more information about ShadowLands, please contact Daphne Srinivasan or Hannah Glasston at Etherton Gallery.