Emma Witter is a young artist from London who work with sculpting from animal bones, with her intention being to challenge mainstream standards of beauty. Her production moves across sculpture, set design and photography, exploring the aesthetic qualities of organic materials and processes.
When looking on the Hix art website I coincidentally came across Emma Witter who uses the exact same process that I have recently used in a small sculptural experiment of my own. She makes artworks from animal bones of various kinds that she often saves from her own food and that meticulously cleans and categorises. This is the same method I used to create my mini bone sculpture which I found very interesting as I've never come across another artist who uses this process and material... admittedly her sculptures are a lot more beautiful than mine. I was so intrigued by this finding that I decided to do some more research into her practise. Witter seeks to investigate ways in which art can operate sustainably, being the Hix artist in residence she now has a lot more bones available to work with.
Witter creates these extremely intricate and ethereal bone sculptures which resemble delicate floral and coral-like formations that stand at the verge of sculpture and design and suggest a potential bridge between art and food (waste). Since January Witter has taken over Hix Art and has been recycling the restaurant’s meat waste by turning it into beautiful sculptural pieces which are all going towards her next show, 'Bloom'. This show is based around creatively raising peoples' awareness to the amount of excessive waste the plane creates daily, in particular, restaurants. Witter does this by transforming materials destined to become garbage into long-lasting objects of beauty.
“It’s a fantastic opportunity for me because the location is so conducive to my productivity.” Witter says. “Being a meat restaurant, I have bountiful amounts of bones available from the kitchen, and I’m fortunate enough to have the use of Mark’s separate kitchen library to prep them. In the evenings I boil and scrub all the bones clean, and leave them overnight in bleach. Then in the day, I’m working down in the gallery creating the sculptures with him. As the menu changes slightly, I’m receiving different bones, which is a lovely natural guideline to works I’m then making. Like receiving different ingredients.”
As the sculptures are completed, one by one they are displayed up above the bar in the restaurant for customers to view.
The show seeks to raise the public’s consciousness on the amount of waste that is overlooked and to encourage people to accept bones as an art medium in its own right. “I get a very mixed bag of reactions when people see that I am working with bone, some is quite animated horror! Haha…” Witter recalls. “The floral shapes that I’m obsessing with are a result of me insisting on the harmless beauty of them. I want them to feel absolutely natural, weightless, elegant.”
Witter doesn't want to stop there, she is also interested in recycling all aspects of her own waste when she works with bones; “I would be proud if my work gave a nod to that, and I would certainly like to develop this idea of using an industry byproduct as artistic material.” Witter muses. “I would love to start creating my own plaster out of bone dust (which I am collecting) and also bone chalks, or mixing them with natural wax mediums etc. Bones can be used for all sorts of products, like soaps, glues, gelatins, fertilizers, charcoal, English soft porcelain (bone china), even a lot of photographic equipment, and I would love the opportunity to create my own by recycling bones.”
Crumb is an American cartoonist and prolific artist who contributed to many of the seminal works of the 'underground comix' movement in the 1960s, creating a very controversial but acclaimed body of work populated by exaggerated characters drawn in an extreme way, with an emphasis on overt sexuality and caricatured physical appearance. Crumb appears to use his art as a form of confessional, conveying his fantasies, fetishes and sexual quirks by putting pen to paper. In the 1960s, before his stylistic and overly-sexually charged cartoons became widely recognised, he was a greetings card artist. During this time he and his wife (and long term collaborator) took strong LSD which led to a 're-evaluation of his career' and marked a significant change in his artistic style.
'Then came the sexual revolution of the 1960s and a new-found spirit of free expression and acceptance, which led the American to publish his therapeutic artwork rather than consign it to the dustbin.'
When displayed on walls in a gallery, his illustrations appear to be normative, well mannered and orderly, with their demarcated black and white lines, however, it's not until you look a bit closer that the pictures come to life and their familiar vulgarity and rude nature come bustling out. I think Crum really captures something which I try to achieve within my own work here, I too want to encourage people to take a closer look as things are not always what they seem. Although we use very different approaches to art, the same intention unites us - what may initially seem to be one thing, is actually something completely different (whether sexually charged or grotesque in nature).
Robert Crumb’s Sex Obsessions, produced in collaboration with the publisher’s “Sexy Book Editor” Dian Hanson, includes celebrated strips such as My Troubles with Women and How to Have Fun With a Strong Girl, along with 60 single page drawings. They all depict similar characters in similar scenarios; physically powerful, large women who appear to be subdued by pathetic, wimpish and artistic nerd types. This creates a power play between size and strength, the roles have been reversed with the genders being flipped by Crumb; it is usually the men who are depicted and muscly, strong and dominant and women who are perceived as small, weak and submissive - this is where Crumb's fantasies become apparent (he is a small, weedy man himself).
“During adolescence I couldn’t fit in, and it was very, very painful. But it fired me to develop my own aesthetic. I was very much in pain about being this outcast, but it freed me to drop that Hollywood ideal and pursue the people that I thought attractive.”
“I made up for all those years of deprivation by lunging maniacally at women I was attracted to… squeezing faces and humping legs… I usually got away with it… famous eccentric artist, you know… they made allowances for my behaviour… I blush with shame at the thought of it.” Crumb
We are given an explanation into the appeal which these 'grotesque' caricatures have to a new generation by a gallery publisher who exhibited Crumb's work in 2016; “What’s exciting about the work is his openness to his own desire and erotics,” he enthuses. “There’s something irreconcilable at the heart of the work that doesn’t resolve towards a single vision of beauty, and which is at odds with much contemporary art. It’s about seduction and repulsion. You are drawn into the work and you are judging yourself as you look at it.” - Lucas Zwirner
Crumb’s work, although considered by many to be comical, is not perceived well by everyone. His portrayal of women, and his sexually rampant self-portraiture, led to vilification by feminist critics, who believe his work to be graphic misogyny and essentially porn “It had some validity,” he says now. “My work is full of anger towards women. I was sent to Catholic school with scary nuns and I was rejected by girls at high school. I sort of got it out of my system, but anger is normal between the sexes. OK, it can go to the top and men can harm women, but if anyone says they are not angry I don’t believe it, especially while your libido is still going. The men who are most charming are often the most contemptuous.”
Steadman is renowned for his political and social caricatures, cartoons and picture books. His compellingly grotesque drawings of people, animals and the political sphere have become some of the most iconic and widely known illustrations of both the 20 and 21st century. Alongside his life-long friend, Thompson, Steadman took numerous psychedelic drugs which he suggests may be a reason for what he creates when he puts pen to paper... "you can do anything in drawing, as viciously as you like".
Over a period of twelve years, a film was made about Steadman, documenting his life as well as his artworks (which he refuses to sell - "If anyone owns a Steadman original, it's stolen.") 'For No Good Reason' explores the connection between life and art through Steadman's eyes. Its insightful, humorous and visually stunning, a study in honesty, friendship and the ambition that drives an artist. The film follows Steadman's rise to prominence which began in the early 70s during the 'fallout from the love and hope that had swept the western world' during the 60s. This legendary time for music, literature, art and philosophy was the catalyst for Steadman to express and chart the wreckage that followed; a large-scale disintegration of a demoralised counter-culture. His art gained recognition in the press and popular-culture publications for its bold comment on his fiercely heartfelt politics.
His work is richly creative and a visual feast about the power and importance of art... "I learnt to draw... to try to change the world". His work holds a type of anarchic energy, anger and free-spirit, he conveys his thoughts, friendships, fallings out and his one and passion for civil liberties. His dark days were especially evident through his 'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas' illustrations (a book which his deceased friend wrote) which are a lot darker than most of his other, more comical work.
A lot of Steadman's work is based around critiquing the political systems in place in bothe the UK and the USA, however he announced in the mid-80s that he wasn't going to draw politicians any more, partly because he'd decided that mocking them didn't change anything. "Well," he shrugs, "I did him because the Statesman asked me. I really don't like Osborne. I don't like Cameron, either. They've just got these balloon faces, haven't they? A crowd of bobble-faces. They all look like babies in suits – really pathetic." He sighs. "I don't know whether I do politicians or not now. I'm not sure." A shake of the head. "I'm not sure what I do."
"They'd see me drawing them and take it personally, like it was an insult, like I'd gone up to them and said, 'You ugly son of a bitch.'"
He'd been watching a Wallace and Gromit cartoon; "There was nothing vicious about it, and I was just laughing. Then you start thinking, after the event, why was I bothering to be vicious anyway, in drawings? Have I been unfair, you know, to be that vicious? Were human beings that bad? Isn't there a little compassion in them somewhere, in human beings?"
Some of my favourite of Steadman's drawings are the more grotesque and disgusting illustrations where you have to really look at his subjects carefully to figure out what he is trying to convey. He created a series of illustrations based around Leonardo Da Vinci and his practise, these drawings are meticulous and less 'disgusting'/'grotesque' than his others.
Steadman focused on the anatomical side of human nature (also inspired by Da Vinci's work) and drew some extremely detailed and meticulous components to an illustration which also has aspects of collage to it. It was this drawing which inspired me to step back from my usual 3Dimensional approach to art, and made me consider how illustration can convey the beauty of the grotesque as well as sculpture. The next step for my work within this project will be to create a series of drawings which respond to my title in a 2Dimensional way.
The Beauty of the Grotesque
Definition of grotesque
1a : a style of decorative art characterized by fantastic human and animal forms or similar figures that may distort the natural into absurdity, ugliness, or caricature. The Grotesque fits in between the real and the fantastic, the funny and the frightening.
b : a piece of work in this style an ornate structure, embellished with grotesques
c: one that is grotesque
French, Italian grottesco (as noun, grottesca grotesque decoration such as was apparently found in excavated dwellings), derivative of grotta.
Synonym Discussion of grotesque
fantastic, bizarre, grotesque mean conceived, made, or carried out without adherence to truth or reality. Fantastic may connote extravagance in conception or ingenuity of decorative invention. ⟨dreamed up fantastic rumors⟩ Bizarre applies to the sensationally strange and implies violence of contrast or incongruity of combination. ⟨a bizarre medieval castle in the heart of a modern city⟩ Grotesque may apply to what is conventionally ugly but artistically effective or it may connote ludicrous awkwardness or incongruity often with sinister or tragic overtones.
The Grotesque is both an artistic and literary term, and is a bit difficult to describe, as it is less of a solid definition, and more of a range between a number of different qualities. The Grotesque is primarily concerned about the distortion and transgression of boundaries,be they physical boundaries between two objects, psychological boundaries, or anything in between. Exaggeration also plays a role.
There are two main ways to define something as Grotesque, as evidenced by the diagrams:
1. The Grotesque fits in between the real and the fantastic, the funny and the frightening.
2. The Grotesque simultaneously fits somewhere between being funny and being frightening. (This is a bit more difficult to gauge, as what is funny to one person is frightening to another, so maintaining a bit of an open mind is helpful).
The term achieved a surge in popularity in the 1800s in England and Germany, where it was used for satire and caricatures. The main reason for this is that the Enlightenment was then underway—the Age of Reason. Thus, anything that was seen as excessive or exaggerated was considered to be comic, opposite to enlightened thought, and thus excellent fodder for mockery. Especially important in this period was Friedrich Schlegel’s 1804 Conversation on Poetry which refers to the “terrifying aspect of humor, the horrifying aspect of comedy,”