RICHARD ORI­ENT

American Art Collector - - Contents - MARTIN WITTFOOTH

Hud­son River Ab­stracted

In Do­mes­tic Kataba­sis, New York painter Martin Wittfooth’s new ex­hi­bi­tion, the pri­mal re­la­tion­ship be­tween man and the an­i­mal king­dom reaches an an­ar­chic con­clu­sion as the an­i­mals are in open re­volt of the sys­tem, of tech­nol­ogy, of the sta­tus quo, of na­ture it­self.

“I use the term kataba­sis, which not a lot of peo­ple might know. It’s an old Greek term, one that shows in up hero’s tales— some­thing from Joseph Camp­bell or about his ar­che­typal hero’s jour­ney. It is the val­ley into which our hero de­scends. In many sto­ries the hero de­scends to never re­turn, but al­ter­na­tively there are sto­ries where the de­scent of­fers chal­lenges and a hope that maybe the hero could rise out of it,” Wittfooth says of his show, now on view at Corey Helford Gallery in Los An­ge­les. “As a col­lec­tive species, we’re in a state of kataba­sis, which is why I’ve paired these scenes with do­mes­ti­cated an­i­mals…dogs, cats, bulls and horses, farm an­i­mals as well. We have a hu­man de­sire to man­i­cure our own ex­pe­ri­ence, even with an­i­mals. Even na­ture it­self is brought into our world of hu­man form.”

Works in the on­go­ing show in­clude A Cha­rade of Dunces, with ba­boons rid­ing around on a horse amid a post-apoc­a­lyp­tic firestorm; Con­quest, a fe­ro­cious im­age of a bull be­ing at­tacked by a pack of wild dogs, each dog wear­ing a unique col­lar made of three strips of leather; and Mas­quer­ade, an al­most sur­real im­age of a red-striped equine sub­ject draped in flags strut­ting through a green cloud of smoke, or per­haps tear gas. Like many of Wittfooth’s works, Mas­quer­ade holds a dev­as­tat­ing se­cret: the an­i­mal looks like a uniquely col­ored ze­bra, but look closer and it’s clear the flags are stabbed into the horse’s body and each stab wound has opened up a stream of blood

that pours down the horse’s white flank.

The show is an­chored by four works, in­clud­ing the three pre­vi­ously men­tioned works, that each mea­sure 105 or 107 inches on their long­est side. “Scale was im­por­tant for these works. It places the ac­tion in the room, and that scale was some­thing I re­ally wanted to em­pha­size as I started to paint,” he says. “They’re es­sen­tially life-size works, and they trans­port the view­ing right into the piece.”

Wittfooth’s paint­ings are of­ten heavy in sym­bol­ism and al­le­gory, and it can be daunt­ing for some view­ers who feel they must align ev­ery­thing in the work to a re­al­world mean­ing, but the painter en­cour­ages view­ers to ex­pe­ri­ence the works on their own terms and us­ing their own nar­ra­tives. For ex­am­ple, this new work has a po­lit­i­cal slant to some of the works—the ba­boons are draped in an Amer­i­can flag, the blood­ied horse has a mil­i­tary-like pres­ence, and Con­quest’s bull is of­ten linked to ideas of cap­i­tal­ism—but Wittfooth en­cour­ages view­ers to take up their own ideas, even if it takes them out­side the United States to a more global un­der­stand­ing of hu­man, or an­i­mal, na­ture.

Other works in the show in­clude dog por­traits that play with the idea that hu­mans have se­lec­tively bred an­i­mals of a weaker va­ri­ety sim­ply be­cause of their phys­i­cal traits. The im­ages’ sub­text is re­in­forced by dec­o­ra­tive wall­pa­per back­grounds, which Wittfooth calls “Flem­ish-like flo­ral still lifes, which are re­minders of how we use na­ture as a dec­o­ra­tive el­e­ment in our lives.”

One of the cor­ner­stones of the show is Wild­mother, an im­age of a do­mes­ti­cated dog that is lay­ing in a gor­geously col­ored land­scape of plants, birds and small for­est crea­tures. Milk is leak­ing from the dog’s belly, feed­ing the grass and an­i­mals in a lus­cious and peace­ful com­ment on the heal­ing power of na­ture. “The paint­ing is hap­pen­ing through a dream­like fil­ter,” the painter says, adding that the band Ri­val Sons are us­ing a ver­sion of the paint­ing on the cover of their new al­bum. “I’ve been in­ter­ested in this theme of na­ture as mother, hence Mother Na­ture, for a long time. There’s some­thing beau­ti­ful about this liv­ing, breath­ing or­gan­ism that we are all float­ing around on.”

Do­mes­tic Kataba­sis con­tin­ues through Novem­ber 24 in Los An­ge­les.

1Mas­quer­ade, oil on can­vas, 85 x 107"2Con­quest, oil on can­vas, 85 x 105"

3Pan­dora, oil on can­vas, 60 x 42"

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