Joel C. Sheesley
I wish to be remembered as a religious artist who attempted to portray the most intimate range of human feelings and the meetings of the human with life's demons and deities.... Art and the holy are twins. Rembrandt, Kollwitz pray with muddy and bloody hands. —Jerome Witkin
I first became aware of Jerome Witkin in 1971 when he came to Syracuse University to teach painting. I was getting ready to graduate from the School of Art and had no occasion to take a class from him, but he invited me one day to his studio. What I saw that afternoon challenged what I thought were the legitimate strategies open to a contemporary painter. I was an undergraduate painting major who had become committed to abstraction. I thought an artist had the obligation to distance himself from his subject matter by concentrating only on its formal qualities. Witkin was clearly not interested in such distancing. To my mind he brought a painting's subject matter and the viewer entirely too close for comfort.
In Witkin's studio I saw paintings in which subject matter played an important role in establishing the work's meaning. I saw a style of drawing which unflinchingly combined illustrational drawing conventions with distortions which seemed the result of personal observation of the model. I saw paintings into which Witkin had actually written lines of poetry. In my view at the time, none of these things were proper in contemporary painting. Witkin's drawing and painting, I thought, were dangerously dramatic and sentimental. I think I more or less told him this, and I think I remember, much to my surprise, he more or less agreed with me.
I stumbled out of his studio uncertain of how to sum up the value of what I had seen. But what I had seen, I found in the months and years to come, never left my mind. Since then, I have seen Witkin's work several times at exhibitions in New York galleries, and I have watched for every opportunity to see his work when it has traveled to the Midwest. I have become convinced that what I once thought was idiosyncratic and sentimental in his work is actually an intelligent challenge to a culture which often wants to ignore the intense human dramas which he depicts. Witkin's work offers insight to anyone interested in how the visual arts can effectively address the moral dimension of contemporary life.
After some twenty-four years, I have recently visited Jerome Witkin's studio again. He now works in a much larger place than I had seen as a student. The studio has an entryway cluttered with artifacts which have found their way into his paintings as subjects over the years. This entryway gives the impression of a small attic in which trunks hold memories, outdated clothing hangs on hooks along with old uniforms, yesterday's furniture gathers dust, and photographs and mementos are tacked to the walls. Meaning here resides in things, and these things pile up and demand our attention. Inside, in the studio proper, are paintings. Some are wrapped in plastic and stacked against the walls, others lean against one another unprotected. Many are larger than six by ten feet, but mixed among them are smaller works; some clearly are studies, others are finished paintings. The studio is a large loft-like space with a high ceiling and one long uninterrupted wall on which hang many works-in-progress. Opposite this wall is an elevated platform: a roughly eight-by-twelve-foot model's stand, enclosed on all sides except for a door-sized opening in the front, through which Witkin can see the model. The model's stand is actually a small boxed-in stage in which Witkin can control the lighting and set up whatever props are needed for the project he is working on. On this stage the model develops his or her character for the story in which he or she is playing a part.
On the day of my visit the model was posing as Jesus. Witkin was working (and continues to work) on a major painting with the working title The J. Narrative [see Plate 1 for one section in progress], in which "J" stands for Jesus. Altogether, The J. Narrative will consist of three sections of canvases and extend to a width of forty-five feet. Each of the three sections will be made of a complicated arrangement of one square-shaped and two irregular-shaped, step-edged canvases, which fit together to make a fifteen-foot-long rectangular panel. This complex structure will carry a symphony of a painting which at this writing is far from finished. In a letter describing the painting's progress, Witkin wrote that it "has become my most intense Vision-Quest: I want to know, alone, on my own terms, who and what Jesus is to me."
Early in May I watched Witkin at work on The J. Narrative. With sketches and preparatory drawings and paintings tacked to the studio walls, he was working on part of the first panel, in which he was unsatisfied with the nearly life-size Jesus figure on the right side of the panel. (Witkin has changed this figure several times and has altered it yet again since the description I offer here. Plate 1 is not the final form of the picture. As reproduced here, Jesus appears as the standing man in the blue shirt on the left and also as the large blue-shirted figure on the right.) As I helped him move this canvas from the first panel to a large easel close to where his model posed, I could feel by its weight that the canvas already held many layers of paint. Witkin then scraped and sanded over the figure he intended to alter and repaint. With his model in place, he began to paint in the new pose directly. Within an hour and a half the large painting had been transformed. Replaced was not only the earlier more frontal and static Jesus, but a complicated and carefully painted arrangement of furniture which had stood in front of Jesus. The new figure, positioned on a diagonal, introduced a dynamic force to the two-dimensional arrangement of the composition. At the same time Witkin had brought the figure forward so it engaged the three-dimensional illusion of the picture in a more interesting way. He and I looked at how the altered piece would fit back into the first panel; everything seemed to be enlivened by the changes he had made. "Lucky," said Witkin under his breath.
Such "luck" doesn't come from nothing. Tracing the foundations of Jerome Witkin's imagination and talent, however, sends one on a complicated journey. It is, in fact, difficult to place Witkin within any of the stylistic developments of the last thirty years of painting. Witkin is a realist, but the reemergence of realism in the late sixties and early seventies offers no single stylistic framework out of which Witkin can be seen to emerge. (This may help to explain why Witkin's reputation is not as widespread as it might be if he was identified with a "movement.") This does not suggest that Witkin is a renegade or naive self-taught artist, a voice from outside. Jerome Witkin is very much an insider devoted to the history and criticism of art. In fact, Witkin's very attention to recent developments in painting has helped him to conceive a theoretically and structurally sound basis for the distinctives of his personal vision.
To appreciate Witkin's accomplishment, it is important to understand the context of realism's recent reemergence. For many American artists from the sixties onward, realism has seemed a kind of artistic discovery. Realism was overlooked for a number of years under the dominance of abstraction and then pop art, but after having been laid to rest and forgotten, it began to reappear as a novel option. As a post-modern option, painters began to mine realism for particular artistic qualities rather than returning to it as the acceptable framework from which to look out at the world. The reacquaintance with realism, played out before important critical audiences, thus was not really a return to realism at all, but rather a post-modern sampling of realism's possibilities and a testing of its formal and social impact. While post-modernism has made it popular to think about realism again, the depth of Witkin's accomplishment rests in his wholehearted commitment to realism as a visionary framework rather than as a stylistic option. As such, Witkin's art is driven by a quest for meaning and understanding rather than a quest for style recognition. In this way he is at odds with painters who earlier returned to realism, who in some ways made his own art possible.
Among these renovators of realism a number are worth considering in order to bring Witkin's place more clearly into view. Philip Pearlstein championed the cause of figure painting in the early seventies but never escaped from an essentially abstract understanding of it. Pearlstein's passive arrangements of bodies have little in common with Witkin's life-engrossed figures. Alfred Leslie, who intended to return painting to its inheritance from Caravaggio, never came close to matching the lively human drama which was part and parcel of Caravaggio's legacy. Witkin has capitalized on this Caravaggian drama of life, as Leslie had only intended to. Unlike Leslie, who sets up formal tableaux alien to the give and take of everyday experience, Witkin's subjects seem, if anything, overly immersed in the clutter of lived reality. Jack Beal embraced a sense of narrative as does Witkin, but Beal's sense of color and preference for flatness and pattern is far from the sense of volume found in Witkin's painting. The whole cadre of photorealists also offer little help in placing Witkin. While Witkin occasionally uses a photograph to document visual information, his fine sense of drawing (the power of gestural line) overwhelms the typical flat surface manipulation and film-like value gradations which haunt the work of those who copy the appearance of photographs.
Pushing the search for antecedents further, pop art offers only a minimal clue to Witkin's sensibility. Perhaps in the visceral energy of some of the early Store works by Claes Oldenburg, Ed Kienholz's The Beanery, or the human drama of some of George Segal's plaster figures, we see something of the spirit—but not the substance or form—of Witkin's painting. Jack Levine, like the later Beal, worked with a strong sense of narrative, which is typical of Witkin, but Levine's commitment to a mannered stylization binds his work to the political disenchantments of an earlier day.
During his student years Witkin painted for a time in the manner of the abstract expressionists. In his loose and gestural underpainting, in the one-stroke finish to many of his shapes and forms, and in his improvisational approach to composition, he feels close to abstract expressionism even today. For Witkin, however, the spiritual void on the brink of which so many abstract expressionists stood is not a sheer emptiness only, but a void sensed in the face of real moral decisions and actions. What one finds in comparing Witkin with other modern and contemporary painters is a tangential connection to those artists through a shared interest in content, but almost never a shared style. And with those artists for whom style is all-important, connections to Witkin become very faint.
The genius of Jerome Witkin lies in his amazing power of synthesis, which, rather than reaching a compromise with his artistic influences, recombines them into something unique which stands as a challenge both to what has come before, and to the future. This is partially due to the processing of Witkin's artistic resources through his life experience. Witkin was born a twin, has had several near-death experiences, and has often been in the presence of creative and influential people. Both his young and mature family life have been characterized by a certain amount of instability. All life experience causes its own peculiar refraction of artistic vision.
Witkin was born in 1939, in the Greenpoint section of Brooklyn. He is the twin of the now well-known photographer Joel-Peter Witkin. Jerome's parents, Mary (Pelligrino) Witkin and Max Witkin had a stormy relationship which ended in divorce. Witkin's intensely moving painting, Division Street, from 1984-85, is based on memories of a domestic conflict during which his father left home. The children remained with Mary and her mother, and were brought up Catholic. Max, who was a Jew, had only intermittent influence on Jerome as a child. It has only been in his adult years that Jerome has sought reconciliation with his Jewish heritage. Witkin's Holocaust paintings, the product of more than fifteen years of work and reflection, are the outstanding result.
Jerome's artistic ability manifested itself early, as he seemed to have an unquenchable passion for drawing. It was a gift he knew from the start was not of his own making. Under the influence of a Catholic education, as a child Witkin signed his work "FHGG"—"For the Honor and Glory of God." When, after the typical pranks of mischievous kids, Witkin began to feel guilty, he would secretly test himself by drawing something like a human eye, to see if God might seek to punish him by taking the gift of drawing away. To this day Witkin readily admits, "I know I did not make myself," and he considers his artistic talent as a "command."
This talent could not help but be noticed and in 1953, at age fourteen, Jerome entered the High School of Music and Art in Manhattan. While his first training in art had come at the hands of nuns, as a teenager Witkin was placed in the presence of the heavy hitters of the New York art world. Sherry Chayat, in Life Lessons, her Syracuse University Press monograph on Witkin, quotes him as saying, "I remember the smell of paint in Jack Levine's studio....I was knocked out by his show at the Whitney. I'd go to shows with Willem de Kooning, sit in a Jewish deli with Mark Rothko, eat spaghetti at the Cedar Bar with Franz Kline. I remember Alex Katz's first show at Tanager Gallery, and Tom Wesselmann's, too."
At sixteen Witkin was recommended for a full scholarship at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, in Maine. There he was influenced by social realists like Ben Shahn, Isabel Bishop, and George Grosz. These painters favored an attitude toward art which bound formal innovation to human content. In the mid-fifties, it was just this humanist sensibility which was being challenged by a formalist interpretation of abstract expressionism and by the cool detachment of the emerging pop artists. Chayat quotes Witkin remembering a sense of ambivalence about which way he ought to turn between these opposing sensibilities: "The artists at Skowhegan had condemned abstraction as a cop-out. In some ways they were right. But one got to feel that the humanist image looked sugary; the abstract gesture looked tough and ready and harrowingly searching."
Following high school, Witkin completed more art education at Cooper Union in New York City, and won a Pulitzer Traveling Fellowship to Europe. He spent several months in Italy and Germany seeing as much art and European culture as he could, meeting as many artists as possible, and painting. It was in Europe that the expressive power of the human figure in art took hold of Witkin's imagination. First he was captivated by the sheer sensual impact of the figurative tradition in Italy, then an increasing awareness and appreciation of the life force that animates these bodies took hold of him. Last, and learned over many years, he came to know that there is a personal time and character-formed shape to this force which warrants the name soul. It was the drama and stories in the art of Caravaggio which most impressed Witkin in Italy, and it is the embodiment of a person's soul which fascinates him in the figurative art of Rembrandt today.
When he returned to the United States, Witkin set out to establish his art career by winning a Guggenheim Fellowship, getting his first one-person exhibition (at the Morris Gallery in Manhattan), and taking a teaching job at the Maryland Institute's College of Art in Baltimore, all within the first three months of his repatriation. Witkin held the teaching position at the Maryland Institute until 1965, when he accepted a two-year teaching position at the Manchester College of Art in England. This was followed by a shorter teaching position in Switzerland, after which he was eager to return again to the United States, where he took another teaching position, this time at the Moore College of Art in Philadelphia. Concurrently with his teaching assignment at Moore, Witkin decided to enter an MFA program at the University of Pennsylvania. In 1971 Witkin was invited to join the art faculty at Syracuse University. This he accepted, and so began what has become a professorship of twenty-four years in Syracuse, New York.
Throughout this time Witkin's art and reputation have steadily grown. His long gallery relationship with Kraushaar Galleries, and later with the Sherry French Gallery, both in New York City, were accompanied by numerous exhibitions which traveled across the country to various universities and museums. Paintings by Witkin are in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum in New York, the Cleveland Museum, the Galleria degli Uffizi in Florence, Italy, and the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C., among others. His works are likewise held in many prestigious private collections. He has met this degree of success in tandem with a number of personal crises and failures which have permanently marked him and deeply affected his artistic vision. In the professional world of art, he has the satisfaction of having tested his talents and of knowing his competence, but he has felt the frustration of not yet having attained the level of recognition his work deserves. On the home front, Witkin is twice divorced, has two grown children, and is the father of a one-year-old son with his third wife, Lisa. He has known the entanglements of domestic conflict and the reality of his own shortcomings.
His young son Andrew has a rare blood disease—severe congenital neutropenia—which seriously impairs his immune system. The experience of living with this beautiful boy who lives very much on the edge has reminded Witkin once again of his understanding that we do not make ourselves but are recipients not only of our talents, but of life itself. In many ways Andrew's happy but tenuous hold on life is a brighter reflection of Witkin's own struggle to hang on and fulfill the potential of his God-given artistic gifts. Several times Chayat quotes Witkin's journal entries pleading to God for time. In 1986 he wrote: "Love and its folly; its non-being hurts me. Yet this is what I want to paint about. The wanting of love, the giving of it. Love as a healer. Without it, one dries up. Oh, God, help me to go on."
Indeed, surveying Witkin's work over a twenty-year period, these are the things he has painted about. The wanting of love, the giving of love, and the healing power of love have directed his attention to the Holocaust and the most abased and inhuman subject matter that can be confronted. He has painted about domestic pain (Division Street, 1984-85), personal psychological torment (Subway: A Marriage, 1981-83), and circumstances of almost inconceivable forgiveness (Mortal Sin: In the Confession of J. Robert Oppenheimer, 1985). In Painter's Crossing: To the Passions of Rembrandt, 1976-78, and in Kill-Joy: To the Passions of Kathe Kollwitz, 1975-76 [see Plate 2] he has addressed the artist's terrific challenge of truly loving his or her world. In Kill-Joy, Witkin depicts a woman embracing a wounded person in a bomb-shattered world otherwise populated by mannequins. Twentieth century German artist Kathe Kollwitz embraced such wounded persons and made them the center of her prints and drawings. In Terminal, 1987, and Liberation, 1945, 1989, he painted the serene dignity achieved by those who withstand the terror the world heaps on its scapegoats. In Are You Here? (Sue Ades Posing), 1985 and Breaking the Pose (The Art Class), 1986, we see the painter's own love of beauty held permanently in art, as beauty—the ephemeral objective—drifts between the artifice of posing and the nonchalance of unconscious being.
It becomes clear when speaking with Witkin that the key to artistically addressing these large issues of life is an understanding of art itself which goes well beyond its recent history. Witkin tends to think and speak by reference to anecdotes and works of art. We quickly pass back in time to Rembrandt, Georges de La Tour, Goya, CÈzanne; as he wonders over their works Witkin is incited to wonder over their minds and worlds. Love was certainly no less a passion for Rembrandt or Goya than it is for us, and the key to understanding their passion is to experience it as palpably manifested in their paintings. To search within works of art for the painterly and draughtsmanlike indications of artists' peculiar humanity is Witkin's method of enlarging himself to their possibilities in his own work.
These bits of painterly evidence or "artistic facts" then reflect other facts. Witkin points to a glass of water on a table and asks, "What could be more seductive?" Ultimately it is not his love for art that provokes his own inclination to paint, but the fact that art inflames his respect and admiration for the beauty of the simplest visual experience at hand. Witkin is entranced by the particularity that generates aesthetic experience. Beauty does not bounce around the room as an abstraction, but is found within things. Indeed the things and the circumstances in which it shows itself may be unlikely. In Are You Here? (Sue Ades Posing) [see Plate 3], Witkin recalls the frustration of having hired a beautiful model but of being unable to pose the model adequately to see her beauty. It was only in a momentary and unpredicted break in the pose that Witkin found the delightful form of the painting as it stands.
And what are the "artistic facts" or bits of painterly evidence in Are You Here? (Sue Ades Posing), which begin to reveal Witkin's personal take on beauty? To begin, there is Witkin's drawing. At first glance one sees the sleek hand of an illustrator at work. The artist appears to have relished the long undulating line from the left shoulder to the foot; it contrasts beautifully with the scrolling intricacy of the line describing the woman's abdomen pressing lightly against her thigh and including the calf of her leg folded beneath her. The knee of this leg is exquisitely rendered in cool tones for shadowed areas and glistening warm flesh tones in the light and highlight—like the pearlescent glazed surface of a sea shell. This piece of virtuoso painting and drawing is set in the general context of studio clutter which reaches into the background to bring forth the inquiring woman holding the telephone, and reaches forward to include the angular profile of a simple easel and the painter's hands jutting in from the left. This complexity confounds the initial off-putting reading of illustrational device. We have moved from theatrics to theater, to the moment when expression is enveloped in the content of a believable moment. Illustrational device disappears and we join the work in belief.
The suspension of disbelief which allows us to enter such a picture also leads to an experience of beauty as reward. But what happens when the same attention to the particularity of experience brings ugliness to light? It is one of Witkin's strengths as an artist that he does not shy away from this most likely occurrence. In fact he seems ready to embrace it, to accept judgment along with grace. The Holocaust paintings are about an encounter with the dark side of human experience. Some of these works confront the nightmare in terms we might categorize as "X-rated." In some of these paintings scenes of torture and murder repulse us in their graphic presentation. Unlike his brother Peter-Joel, however, Jerome Witkin does not relish the darkness, but rather feels obligated to face it head-on and take stock of its terror, if only to know the full cost of redemption. Thus, Liberation, 1945 [see Plate 4] resonates with meaning because we know what this person has been liberated from. In this painting and especially in Terminal [see front cover], it is Witkin's sense of restraint which makes the pictures so poignant.
One of the modern assumptions of realism—an assumption traceable to Courbet in the nineteenth century—is that a focus on "reality" should displace religion. Terminal, however, is an example of realist art which works to engage religious belief. Courbet's famous line, "Show me an angel, and I'll paint one," was meant to dismiss religious inventions which falsify the real experience of life. In Terminal, Witkin accepts the absence of an angel, but he goes on to create a work which is a veritable religious icon for the Jewish community. We expect a cattle car bound for Auschwitz to be crammed with desperate people, but here the door is being opened (or closed) on a solitary human being who seems to glow like one of Daniel's companions in the fiery furnace where an angel was seen standing with them. In the absence of angels our focus on this one person's particularity causes us to see more clearly the dark spiritual forces at work, here set against a divine presence embodied in this man.
The cattle car in Terminal is indeed a parallel to the fiery furnace that Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar prepared for the Jews Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. But in Terminal the fire that burns is in our own imaginations, and the fuel is our knowledge of the Holocaust blended with the simple subject matter we see here. Again, Witkin has meticulously rendered details, not as demonstrations of technique, but as insoluble elements which contain both beauty and sorrow. A pile of shoes in the background; suitcases; the young man's own heavy boots which have no laces; a bulging canvas sack next to a small collection of straw on the floor; the young man's passive gesture, hands clasped together on his lap; his serene face, lit on the left with pale, cool light which contrasts with and intensifies the glowing warmth of the right side of his face—these things resonate with the impending doom suggested by the two fists clasping the steel door pull and by the dark heavy underworkings of the train at the bottom of the picture. The brilliant white and dense black geometric shapes of torn papers and other material on the back of the car already create an optical flicker; the young man's head already is a glowing ember. The star of David pinned over the man's heart is the visual center of the painting. This frayed symbol at the heart of it all pleads the question: "Where is God?"
It is in regard to this rendering of particular reality that Witkin can rightly aspire to be known as a religious artist. The particularity of what is painted reverberates outward and engages the sense of God, making it apparent that God is connected to the here and now; that he is responsible for it, and that we are responsible to God in the here and now. Surely this was the understanding of the biblical Job, who responded to God even in the vacuum of His absence, and worshipped Him even as he felt unjustly persecuted. This responsibility of God to the real world of particular people and events, and the corollary responsibility of people toward God within the same events, is what separates religious art from what is often referred to as "spiritual" art. Artists like Kandinsky sought spirituality in abstraction, but religion is concrete and takes its existence in the here and now. Witkin's painting has an indubitable spiritual dimension, but it is not about disembodied spiritual essences or states of mind. His 1987 exhibition, "Moral Visions," was so named because its paintings dealt with the religious domain in which this-worldly morality means something because the world of moral choice is not man-made. We come back to Witkin's confession: "I know I did not make myself."
This artist who did not make himself is, however, a maker, a teller of visual stories, and this irony triggers Witkin's mind as he paints The J. Narrative. It makes him wonder: "If I am the teller, is someone telling me? If I am the painter, is someone painting me? If I paint God, am I in that act being formed and shaped by God?" The God Witkin is painting in The J. Narrative is one that is crucial as an antidote to the highly spiritualized New Age or Transcendentalist God reemerging in American culture today. In his 1986-87 series A Jesus for Our Time, of which, Self Portrait with A Jesus for Our Time [see Plate 5] is a part, Witkin satirically attacked a contemporary self-made Jesus in a white sharkskin suit projecting himself media-style into a world to which he has gained no right of entry. Now, in The J. Narrative, Witkin intends a much more pious approach to Jesus, in which Jesus' integral link to the human condition is never broken.
In this painting Jesus is not merely a God-conscious guru passing through the world in different guises bringing enlightenment. Rather, he is a real Jew in contemporary clothing, killed by being pushed off the roof of a high building, appearing naked and dirty, and finally—in what Witkin is projecting as an entombment/resurrection scene—riding a New York City subway car, kneeling to tie the shoes of a man who has no arms while hoods violently terrorize the passengers around them. Throughout the forty-five-foot length of this work, folded fire-escape ladders and the repeated step-edge canvas configuration will allude to the possibility of escape for Jesus, as if he could put his humanity aside. But in each instance such escape is not taken. For the orthodox Christian, Jesus is truly, in this painting, Immanuel, God with us.
It may be that the Incarnation celebrated in The J. Narrative is the ideal subject for Witkin's artistic sensibility. In orthodox terms, what the Incarnation tells us is that somehow, in this person Jesus, we have both a complete human being and we have God. Hundreds of years of human rationalizing have produced dissenting opinions which have attempted in one way or other to separate these two identities, to protect God from the debasing particularity of human existence on the one hand, and to protect humanity from the awesome mystery of God on the other. The finding, not of a manifestation, but of God himself in Jesus, has been a revelation too appalling for many a theologian. Yet it may not startle an artist who already expects to find something major residing within something minor. Sherry Chayat quotes from Witkin's journal: "I love subtle mysteries in reality—shadows, gray dishwater, dust, the personal and moving and touching objects in light....Lost, poor, left-over, abandoned, back-room, closet-these are words that begin and contain my vision."
The J. Narrative suggests there is no escape for Jesus from his human existence. Read in orthodox Christian terms, this means there is no escape for God from humanity and consequently no escape for humanity from God. Like Job, we are locked in a universe with God. The J. Narrative, with its folded fire escapes and sealed stairways, with its Jewish Jesus and his earlocks—Jesus being killed, Jesus as a naked young and dirty man, Jesus kneeling in service of the helpless—makes this abundantly apparent.
To be sure, Witkin is not, in The J. Narrative, painting an orthodox theological treatise. He acknowledges, "This is a different way of presenting the narrative, because we live in a time when narrative isn't easy, left to right. Like any good poetry, it lets you know it's open to interpretation, and yet it guides you into some good and difficult places and questions." No doubt there are aspects of his projected plans which will change, just as there may be aspects of the work which will change him, as the teller of the tale finds himself told. His present religious commitments as a Unitarian are not deeply rooted and aspects of his Jewish and Catholic heritage will continue to make their claims on him. But what does seem to be firmly fixed in Witkin's frame is the way his talent has drawn him to the stuff of everyday reality. The translation of that reality through art has made him aware of a greater power who granted him a gift and with it a responsibility. Witkin responds to the gift by painting about "the wanting of love, the giving of love. Love as a healer."