Monday, July 25, 2016

Martin DeWitt Revisited: Tribute to the Ayotzinapa 43 and His New Show at the Zeitgeist

When I was a kid we had a swimming pool and I always thought it was fascinating how the surface of the water had this certain look of undulation as the light reflected off it when the sun shone through it, casting strange shadows on the pristine floor of pool. Somehow painter Martin DeWitt has figured out how to capture that effect. I find it impressive.

This month some of his current work is on display at the Zeitgeist Atrium in a show titled Nature of Space + Hybrid Forms. His experiments with shape, form and texture continue to evolve, producing some stunning work. If you have a little time to kill downtown, check it out. For a good meal and art, the Zeitgeist Cafe can be a tasty destination offering a feast for the eyes as well.

We conducted our first interview in 2012 in conjunction with DeWitt's Homecoming exhibition at the Duluth Art Institute. This is an update using the current show as a springboard.

EN: You come from a family with several artists in it. How did that happen? Who were your mutual influences?

Martin DeWitt: That’s right. I have two older brothers. Terry, lives in Memphis, is an architect – who also paints, mostly in watercolor. Mike, an artist, lives in Turtle River, MN – painting since he was nine…Our great Aunt Helen was an artist… she gave Terry and Mike some of tubes of her oil paints and brushes…way back when…c. 1950 – that got them going. Plus, our great Uncle Ralph was a renaissance man of sorts – an architect/artist/engineer – he studied at the Sorbonne before the First World War. Some of his early drawings and paintings were stored at grandparents house...our formative years and mutual influence come from growing up in Southern California I am sure – the ocean, the light, atmosphere and creative innovation vibe (Hollywood, Disney…!) was paramount – as was a burgeoning art and design sensibility evolving there in the ‘50’s and ‘60s…as a kid, no doubt I was influenced by both my brothers…I wanted to do exactly what they did…sports, art…seeing them be creative was an especially a big influence…plus our parents, though not artists, where risks takers (moving from the Midwest to So. Cal in the late ‘40s) were always supportive!

EN: You each have your own voice and different looks. Your fascination appears to be abstraction, experimentation and design. What have been your biggest influences that differentiate you from other artists?

MDW: Well for sure…I am keen on the potential of abstraction to offer a synesthetic experience for the viewer and emote a powerful visual and perhaps emotional experience. Not sure I am different from any other visual artist out there though – always observing seeking inspiration and a unique point of view…taking risks with the work…exploring, experimenting with new media…staying curious, responding to contemporary ideas and issues, trying to communicate to a broad audience…via this visual language format…my influences are endless; cross cultural world views, yogic art, mandalas, Native American shields, Chinese Sung landscape painting, 19th – 20th century European and American art movements, Eastern and Western philosophies, the Bauhaus, modernists Wassily Kandinsky, Arthur Dove, abstract painters of the New York School…, Black Mountain College, and contemporaries, Irene Rice Pereria, Joan Mitchell, Betty Parsons, Robert Irwin, Richard Tuttle, Gerhardt Richter, and countless more…and then, George Morrison, of course.

EN: Tribute to the Ayotzinapa 43 strikes me as unusual because I do not recall your work being concerned with political issues. Can you outline the issue that inspired this piece?

MDW: Yes, this is my most recent painting – in response to the ongoing violence, systemic racism against indigenous communities in Mexico – not unlike close to home and throughout the world. On September 26, 2014, over a hundred indigenous students from the rural town of Aynotzinapa were on their way to Iguala, Mexico, in the State of Guerrero, to demonstrate the ongoing political and economic injustices. 43 of the students were rounded up, detained, disappeared, then murdered…by drug cartel thugs – who were aligned with the Mayor of Iguala and his wife…as a tribute in solidarity to the killed students, an art exhibit at UW Madison in 2015 and a surge of protests throughout the world have continued to protest the murdered students and the ongoing violence…in the midst of a violent world…people’s memories lapse…and repress…my painting is a small condemnation of the event…and an effort to bring greater awareness to the students tragic demise…I wanted to paint them a beautiful picture…

EN: If this is not a first, how have you engaged issues in the past? What were the issues and why/how did they motivate you to address them?

MDW: Actually… much of my work has been and continues to be politically inspired…current events and issues. I am quite taken with the power of art to express one’s feelings, thoughts and emotions regarding a tragedy, political issue, or humanitarian calamity. A significant example immediately comes to mind throughout world calamity and art history. Pablo Picasso’s monumental painting “Guernica” – denounces the horrors of war (Fascist bombing in 1937 of the Basque town of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War.)… In response and protest to the US invasion and Gulf War, in 1991, I painted “Firebomb over Euphrates…” my most large scale painting then – this same year in Jan.-Feb, together with a handful of other Duluthians, I stood on the corner of Superior Street and 14th Avenue East hoisting a placard “no blood for oil” - on a regular basis, during morning rush hour. These are small things one person can do. In 1992, I created a multi-media installation in response to the Bosnian War – the genocide. Travel to Cuba in 1998-2000, inspired me to paint a series of mixed media works, in solidarity with the Cuban people, especially the artistic community there…struggling, day by day, seeking self expression…family and art…in response to the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, then Afghanistan, I painted a series of paintings titled “Redwhiteblu”…questioning the integrity of “Old Glory”…the imposed Patriot Act…nationalist ideologies and political pressure, just cause, preemptive strikes, folly, sanctions and the death of 7,000 American soldiers and possibly nearly half a million Iraqi solders and civilians, children and adults.

EN: Is your technique proprietary or can you share what the materials are that you have been mixing with the paints for some of those exceptionally textured pieces?

MDW: Process is a huge part of the creative venture… Over the years I have continued to explore a variety of mixed media and integrative mediums… I paint on multiple surfaces, canvas, birch plywood and Masonite panels. I also utilize found objects (dumpster diving…) painted into and onto… using brand name oil, acrylic, latex enamels (commercial house paint… gloss, semi-gloss, satin…flat…seeking out the unwanted paints…and frequent the recycling centers.) I use a variety of grits to create textural zones…sand…crushed brick and tiles…mixed into the paint to create a thick impasto – to hold and layer color – juxtaposed and reveal relationship to each other…all in an effort to explore a myriad of color characteristics, hue, value, saturation, brightness…translucency, fluorescence...As represented in my current Zeitgeist exhibit, all the paintings have continued to explore visual and conceptual abstraction and the expressive potential of mixed media with altered digital images. In this case, images of previous and recently created paintings are repurposed, as well as new photographs taken while in Mexico this past year have been digitally altered – then printed on canvas – as a new exploration resource and tool, resulting in a hybrid of elements, digital imagery painted into, latex enamel, acrylic, layered in compound color, texture and image integration.

EN: Thank you for sharing. Do you have a website I can link to?

MDW: Sure do, here you go:

EN: Where can people see more of your work or buy it? 


MDW: My show at Zeitgeist continues through July 30 and prices are noted on the labels unless marked as sold. Viewers are always welcome to visit my website where I have new and past paintings posted and available for sale unless otherwise noted. Folks can call, email or contact me via my website. In addition, I am happy to say that Lizzard’s Gallery here in Duluth has a small selection of my paintings. Plus, I have a series of original paintings and prints available for purchase at www.fineartamerica/

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Meantime, art goes on all around you. Engage it.

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