Philadelphia Open Studio Tours West 2012, Kimberly Witham

by admin on November 6, 2012

in Photography, Uncategorized

Kimberly Witham, Philadelphia Open Studio Tours East 2012 Kimberly Witham, Philadelphia Open Studio Tours West 2012

Kimberly Witham, The White Series, Philadelphia Open Studio Tours West 2012

OK, DoN knows what you’re thinking. This isn’t news. Philadelphia Open Studio Tours West was a month ago and DoNArTNeWs hasn’t even written about POST East yet, except for Michelle Post at Da Vinci Art Alliance. But today, Election Day 2012, while walking around the block with Katy the ArT DoG we spotted a dead sparrow on the sidewalk, it’s eyes opaque, it’s little feet curled and yet the feathers were glossy and colorful, the breast glowing with a tinge of crimson, it felt the time was right to write. DoN tries to keep the DoNArTNeWs blog newsy but developing this new format has taken some time with an intense learning curve and as you know the art world is ephemeral, art shows come and go so quickly. But the tiny dead bird reminded DoN how impressive Kimberly Witham‘s photography exhibit at Center for Emerging Visual Artists was and well worth revisiting.

Kimberly Witham, Philadelphia Open Studio Tours East 2012 Kimberly Witham, Philadelphia Open Studio Tours Wesr 2012


Kimberly Witham joked that visitors to the chic gallery on the 3rd floor of the Barclay Building on Rittenhouse Square stood before her complex still life photographs and looked at each other like they thought, ‘This is creepy. How long do I have to stand here before I can get outta here?”  The artist said, “But it’s fun to watch that.”

DoN told Kimberly Witham how he and photographer Jeff Stroud had just been talking about Frankenstein, the Mary Shelly book and the movies, and how the story influenced art and made the idea of ugly/beautiful acceptable to the masses. Kimberly responded, “There is a really fine line between something that is beautiful and terrifying, you know? I think there is a natural love between those things. So that is something that I am very conscious of, like seduction and revulsion, just the idea that you could be like, ‘Blech!’, it looks beautiful but as you get closer you think, ‘Maybe, not so much.'”

Kimberly Witham, Philadelphia Open Studio Tours East 2012 Kimberly Witham, Philadelphia Open Studio Tours Wesr 2012


The technical virtuosity of Kimberly Witham‘s work is undeniable with a unique and disturbing narrative. She said, “I think the technical part, if you’re going to try and pull off that rub, then the technical part has to be perfect. I think if it’s not, then..” DoN interrupted, “It turns it into skate-punk art.” “Exactly, that technical balance is something that I spend hours at, I can’t tell you how many times I readjust elements a tiny little bit this way or that when no one else would notice the difference. But to me it’s like it has to be right in that spot or it’s not right. So I spend as much time doing those little movements as much as anything.”

DoN wondered aloud if the object in the upper right of the picture above with the dragonfly was a piece of ginger? “No, I always use objects that I find around my house. A woman lived there for like fifty years, it’s a two hundred year old house, and she had been a big gardener. I feel like we’re constantly doing archeology, like when you’re digging, there’s alway something you’ll find. So, I found that and I was like, ‘What is that? Is it a game piece? What was it from?’. It was out in her garden and so I stashed it, I have what I call a cabinet of curiosities where I have bird’s nests, little artifacts that I find around, and that was in there. I was looking for just one more element to go into that photograph and I thought, ‘I want that deer!’ That’s how it ended up in there but it does have a nice correspondence with those other pieces.”

Kimberly Witham, Philadelphia Open Studio Tours East 2012 Kimberly Witham, Philadelphia Open Studio Tours Wesr 2012


What about the deer? “They’re road kill. They’re not taxidermy. It’s quite amazing, like the woodpecker that’s on that one over there, I was driving to the gym down a road with a fifty mile an hour speed limit and I was like, ‘Pull Over!’, I think once you start looking I equate to like when you learn a new word that you’ve never heard before and you learn the meaning of it and the suddenly it shows up in everything you read or whatever, it’s the same concept. Once you begin to notice, they’re everywhere. So these are two separate deer. To me, how could you not possibly realize that these are not two separate deer? Look how different they look? Look how different their faces are? But maybe that’s because I look at dead deer a lot.”

Kimberly Witham, Philadelphia Open Studio Tours East 2012 Kimberly Witham, Philadelphia Open Studio Tours West 2012


DoN asked why the exhibit was titled The White Series? “Because all of the other ones, like the others from The Domestic Arrangement series, have tons and tons of pattern and I just got sort of overwhelmed by pattern. Even though that’s a new piece (the picture below with the bird on a caladium leaf) with pattern but there are certain pictures like that deer that is so intense that if you put it in front of a pattern it’s overwhelming. It’s too much. So I started to thinking of this notion of white and also having the whole relation of having perfection and beauty and revulsion. It’s so pristine and so pure but then so not pristine and pure.”

Kimberly Witham, Philadelphia Open Studio Tours 2012 Kimberly Witham, Philadelphia Open Studio Tours West 2012


Like Frankenstein, Kimberly Witham reanimates the dead, transforming them into totems, symbols and signs, signifying the elements of life and death, beauty and the grotesque, domestic and wild life in settings that are formal and elegant. The dead woodpecker on a leaf making the shape of a mandorla like a symbol of spirituality, peace and respect for nature in life and afterlife captured forever in a photograph.

Written and photographed by DoN Brewer.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Jeff Stroud November 7, 2012 at 4:56 am


I am so glad you got to this collection! Kimberly Withman’s work is as amazing as it is shocking at first glance. Yet hearing Kim explain the process and thoughts behind her work one can visualize the reality of it.
Embracing death like this gives these arts works a new life, this is creative, thoughtful, and shocking of course. Yet what remains, is a creative mind at work.

admin November 8, 2012 at 9:20 am

“I never saw a wild thing sorry for itself. A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough without ever having felt sorry for itself.”
— D.H. Lawrence

admin November 13, 2012 at 12:13 am

Hi Don,
As always, you are the best. It was so great having an extended conversation with you that day (a chance to talk about all sorts of things). I am hoping to attend the CFEVA opening for Mami Kato and Maggie Mills’ show in a couple of weeks. Hope to see you there.
Hope you are well and enjoying the last few days of beautiful weather.

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