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Surface Tension
Alice Leora Briggs, Joel-Peter Witkin & Holly Roberts

Dates: January 8 – April 6, 2013
Opening Reception: Saturday, January 12, 2013, 7-10 pm
Location: Etherton Gallery
135 S. Sixth Avenue
Gallery Hours: 11 - 5 Tuesday through Saturday and by appointment
Contact: info@ethertongallery.com, 624-7370
  • Artist Reception Saturday, January 12, 2013, 7-10pm
  • Joel-Peter Witkin Artist Talk and Print Viewing, January 13, 2013, 2pm at the Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona 

Tucson, AZ. Etherton Gallery is pleased to present its new exhibition, Surface Tension (Jan 8-April 13, 2013) which opens with an artist reception on Saturday, January 12, 7-10pm. The exhibition features the photographs of Joel-Peter Witkin; mixed media by Alice Leora Briggs; and photo-based mixed media by Holly Roberts.  Surface Tension highlights the tension between the visible, textural qualities of the image surface and the political, social and psychological undercurrents of the artists' subject matter. Joel-Peter Witkin and Alice Leora Briggs will attend the reception.

On Sunday, January 13 at 2 pm, Joel-Peter Witkin will give a talk followed by a print viewing of his own photographs at the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona. The last time Witkin spoke at the Center was in 2005 to an overflow capacity crowd.

“We are living today in a culture of relativism, political correctness and secularism. I disagree with all those ideas. Life is a struggle and I show it as it really is…My work has always shown the splendor and miseries of the human condition. That has always been the meaning of art. Deformity can be found in Vinci, Velasquez, Goya or Dix. Abnormal sexuality has always existed. These acts are not only part of history; they are part of the history of conscience, the history of souls…My job is to make images which show our time. Images which shine light in the darkness.”          Joel-Peter Witkin

Etherton Gallery is pleased to present a selection of recent and classic photographs by Joel-Peter Witkin in Surface Tension. Over the course of his career, Joel-Peter Witkin has engaged the viewer by juxtaposing the dynamic surface of his images against a range of controversial subjects drawn from a deep knowledge of art and photographic history, contemporary events and religion, incorporating his “history of conscience” into painstakingly constructed tableaux.  Before he picks up his camera, Witkin makes precise preliminary sketches. 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. Witkin also works his prints, finishing them with paint, retouching, cutting, collaging and coating them with encaustic. As a result, while he editions his photographs, no two are exactly alike. The subjects of Witkin’s images – the body, the nude and the still life -- are equally controversial. His models, found through random encounters or classified ads are often deformed or live on the margins – transsexuals, sadomasochists, dwarfs, amputees, and androgynes. Yet Witkin finds beauty in the grotesque, equal to the exquisite women that also occasionally inhabit his photographs. Redeploying religious iconography and myth as well as art history and pop culture, he highlights the humanity of his subjects. His memento mori and vanitas images follow a line-up of great painters from Raphael, Rubens, Goya, and Courbet to the great Romantic painter, Théodore Géricault, who painted dismembered bodies of condemned prisoners, and the mentally ill inmates of the Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital in Paris. As other great artists before him, in the end Witkin dispenses with convention, creating his own thoughtful meditation on the human condition.

Alice Leora Briggs, whose work shares an affinity with Joel-Peter Witkin’s photographs, is best known for her meticulously rendered sgraffito (scratchboard) drawings, allegorical responses to political violence, particularly the epidemic of brutal slayings in the US/Mexico border town of Juarez. Surface Tension highlights new work by Briggs, including her exploration of new media: burn drawings, woodcuts and prints.  Woodcut is the oldest technique in printmaking and was widely used in book making following the invention of the Guttenberg printing press. The process produces a print from a design cut in a block of wood. Briggs says that making the woodcuts is a far more physically demanding process in which she gouges, extracts, carves, slashes, scratches, incises, and gashes with cruder tools that cut more deeply and deliberately than her sgraffito drawings. This experience is cathartic, and when combined with the diaristic style of the burn drawings, satisfies the need to respond to the landscapes of violence to which she is drawn as an artist, in an immediate, physical way.

Surface Tension highlights recent photo based mixed media by New Mexico artist Holly Roberts. Roberts layers her paintings with photographs; working intuitively, she builds up the surface and meaning of her work through photo-collage and deft use of paint. However, unlike Witkin whose use of paint is integrated into his photographs, Roberts separates paint and photography, calling attention to the special properties of each.  Roberts uses her own photographs for her collages. She cuts and shapes these fragments before adhering them to the painted surface. These bits and pieces, construct a narrative that reveals itself as she works. Thus the interaction of texture with her wide-ranging socially conscious subject matter from environmental degradation and our loss of faith to the fear of aging – create the poetic connections that attract us to her vision of the world.


Surface Tensions: Alice Leora Briggs, Holly Roberts, Joel-Peter Witkin
opens January 8 and runs through April 13, 2013.  An artist reception will be held Friday, January 12, 2013, 7-10pm, which will be attended by Joel-Peter Witkin and Alice Leora Briggs. On Sunday, January 13, 2013 at 2pm, Joel-Peter Witkin will give a talk followed by a print viewing of his photographs at the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona. Etherton Gallery is located in SoCo, the cultural district South of Congress, 135 South 6th Avenue in downtown Tucson. The gallery is open Tuesday-Saturday, 11am-5pm and by appointment. For more information about the exhibition or Joel-Peter Witkin’s talk at the Center for Creative Photography, please contact Etherton Gallery at (520) 624-7370 or info@ethertongallery.com. Information about the talk is also available on the Center for Creative Photography website, www.creativephotography.org.

Alice Leora Briggs

Alice Leora Briggs’ work includes sgraffito drawings (a technique that originated in 13th century Germany), woodcuts, large installations, and fine art books. She received an MFA in 1981 from the University of Iowa.

Reproductions of nearly 200 of Briggs’ drawings were published in a non-fiction book titled Dreamland: The Way Out of Juarez. This “illuminated manuscript/police blotter” centers on human collisions along the Mexico-United States border (University of Texas Press, 2010). Previously Briggs produced two limited edition books, The Essence of Beeing published by Sherwin Beach Press (1992), and Dear Mr. Kappus: The Eighth Letter (1982).

Briggs’ work has been featured in solo and group exhibitions at select galleries and museums including Box Gallery, Santa Fe, NM; d berman gallery, Austin, TX; Davidson Gallery, Seattle, WA; Evoke Contemporary, Santa Fe, NM;  Eide/Dalrymple Gallery, Augustana College, Sioux Falls, SD;  Nau-Haus Art, Houston, TX;  de Young Museum, San Francisco; El Paso Museum of Art, El Paso, TX; Etherton Gallery, Tucson, AZ; Joseph Gross Gallery, University of Arizona School of Art, Tucson; Galeria mesta Bratislavy, Palffy Palace, Bratislava, Slovak Republic; International Print Center New York (IPCNY); International Museum of Surgical Science, Chicago, IL; Leonard Pearlstein Gallery, Drexel University, Philadelphia, PA; Mercer Gallery, Midwestern State University, Wichita Falls, TX; New York Center for Book Arts, New York, NY; Nora Eccles Harrison Museum, Logan, UT; NM; and the Tucson Museum of Art.

Upcoming exhibitions in 2013 include: In the Wake of Juarez: Drawings by Alice Leora Briggs, University of New Mexico Art Museum, Albuquerque; Bipola,  Mesa Contemporary Art Museum, Mesa, AZ; Alice Leora Briggs and Rigoberto Gonzalez Alonso, Southwest School of Art, San Antonio, TX.

Briggs is the recipient of numerous awards and grants including: Fulbright Scholar, Slovak Republic (2011); Artist Residency at Anderson Ranch and Art Center, Snowmass, CO (2010) Artist Residency at the Border Art Residency, an affiliate of the El Paso Community Foundation (2008-2009); Otis and Velma Davis Dozier Travel Award, offered by the Dallas Museum of Art (2008); the Texas Prize, Wichita Falls Museum of Art, Wichita Falls, TX (2008); Artist Residency, the Jentel Foundation, Banner, WY (2007); Serie Workshop Residency, Austin, TX (2007); City of Phoenix Office of Arts and Culture, Seventh Avenue Streetscape public art project (2005); Project Grant, Arizona Commission on the Arts (2004); Contemporary Forum, Cummings Endowment Grant, Phoenix Art Museum (2003); International Exchange Grant (travel to Slovak Republic), Tucson Pima Arts Council (2003); Visual Artist Fellowship, Tucson/Pima Arts Council (2001); Larry E. Elsner Art Foundation Grant (2001), Individual Artist Grant, Utah Arts Council (1995), Visual Artists Fellowship, Utah Arts Council (1994).

Her work has been the subject of articles and reviews in publications including, The Albuquerque Journal, The Arizona Daily Star, The Arizona Republic, California Literary Review, The Chicago-Sun Times, The El Paso Times, PBS NewsHour, ArtBeat; Pasatiempo, Tucson Weekly, The Salt Lake Tribune, Santa Fean Magazine, Santa Fe Trend Magazine, Shade Magazine, Sculpture Magazine and THE Magazine. Briggs is featured in Who’s Who in American Art.

Alice Leora Briggs’ work is in the permanent collections of public institutions including the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, El Paso Museum of Art; University of Iowa Museum of Art; Nora Eccles Harrison Museum, Phoenix Art Museum, Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, Tucson Museum of Art, Wichita Falls Museum of Art Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, AR; Carlton College Gould Library Special Collections, Sherwin Beach Press Collection; Cornell University, Main Library Special Collections; Library of Congress, Rare Books/Special Collections; Rochester Institute of Technology Libraries, Cary Collection Art of the Book Collection; South Dakota School of Mines and Technology/ Elizabeth Firestone Graham Foundation;  University of Chicago Library Special Collections, Rare Books; Museum of Texas Tech University; University of Nebraska, Lincoln, Blue Heron Press Collection, Artists’ Books; University of Oxford, Bodleian Library; Border Art Residency and Denver Art Museum and numerous private collections.

Holly Roberts (1951 - )

Holly Roberts’ first national exposure came in 1989 with the publication of the monograph, Holly Roberts, published by the Friends of Photography.  Although her work is based on the photograph, it is the inclusion of paint that continues to make it so distinctive.  As David Featherstone says in his introduction,

“Roberts is a painter, yet it is the photograph underlying the paint, even when it can scarcely be seen, that gives the work its intriguing, mysterious power.  Drawing from the iconography of primitive art, particularly that of the Native American, Mexican and Hispanic cultures of the Southwest, where she lives, she creates paintings that address a broad range of human emotions. . . While it is Roberts’ evolving interaction with the photograph that takes her to her finished work, it is the existence of the underlying photographic image—even when it is obscured by paint—that gives the work its powerful qualities and sets up the emotional challenge for the viewer.”

Her work has continued to evolve, but she has reversed her original process of heavily overpainting the black and white silver print.  She now works on the painted surface, developing a narrative scene with collaged photographic elements.  Where earlier pieces reflected psychological or emotional undercurrents, newer works make use of familiar or iconic stories to address tougher questions about man’s effect on the land and the animals that inhabit it. 

Holly Roberts’ work has been featured in two other monographs Holly Roberts:  Works 1989-1999 (1990) and Holly Roberts 2000-2009 (2009) both published by Nazraeli Press.  A dedicated teacher as well as a prolific artist, she has had a profound effect on a community of artists around the country.

Holly Roberts lives with her husband Bob in the Southwest.

Joel-Peter Witkin (1939 - )

Joel-Peter Witkin received a camera at the age of 15 after taking an introductory class in photography. After high school and jobs in New York color labs, he joined the military. Witkin studied at the Cooper Union School of Art and Architecture, where he earned his BA and the University of New Mexico, where he earned his MFA in 1986.

Witkin’s dark world view is expressed through painstakingly constructed photographs, alluding to the work of Henry Peach Robinson and Oscar Gustave Rejlander, who created the elaborately staged morality tale, The Two Ways of Life (1857). However, Witkin’s tableaux are dense with literary, art historical and religious references that pose moral challenges to the viewer. His images are inhabited by social outcasts, including dwarves, hermaphrodites, people with unusual physical capabilities or deformities, and mutilated corpses and amputated body parts from the dead, obtained from medical schools, insane asylums and morgues. The resulting photographs are simultaneously hauntingly beautiful and grotesque.

These images do not dwell in the modern world, but rather exist in a timeless place where the ages collide. Renaissance Madonnas and Venuses, Dutch still lifes, Mexican retablos, Caravaggio, William Blake, Courbet, Lucien Freud, Seurat, and Dali coexist in his photographs.  Fragments of Etienne-Jules Marey’s nineteenth century motion studies and a nude study by French photographer Charles Nègre can also be found in his images. Witkin’s method of working harkens back to academically trained Renaissance painters. He carefully plans his tableaux, sketching their designs and arranging every detail before beginning work in the studio. These images must often be produced; and it is difficult to find models. Once in the studio, it can take up to two weeks to finish one photograph. He then reinvents it in his darkroom, where he makes the photograph into something virtually hand-made by scratching and even puncturing the negative.   Printing is the final step in making the taboo and the grotesque seem sexually desirable and beautiful in Witkin’s world.

Joel-Peter Witkin's photography has been featured in several monographs, most recently Vanitas (2012) and the catalogue accompanying a major retrospective at the Bibliothèque National in Paris, Witkin (2012). Other publications include Joel-Peter Witkin, A Retrospective (1995); Harms Way (1994); Joel-Peter Witkin, Twelve Photographs in Gravure (1994) and Gods of Heaven and Earth (1989). His work is included in public collections such as The Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the J. Paul Getty Museum, The National Gallery, the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Centre Georges Pompidou. He is also the recipient of the Commandeur d’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres de France.