José Witteveen

“The art projects I work on in this period are an amalgamation of the skills I’ve acquired over the years and all my other interests – in history, behavioral science, philosophy and literature.”

José is a multidisciplinare artist: she works with photography, collage, printmaking, painting and drawing.
Overall José’s work is strongly influenced by literature, spatial explorations, and personal stories.
In the work there are different layers of time and gradients between reality and lucid domains.


Odour of sanctity

Odour of sanctity is an ongoing project in Rome, exploring the relationship between sanctity and the growing anxiety in these times.
The project consists of street scenes and portraits in public spaces.

The odour of sanctity according to the Catholic Church, is commonly understood to mean a specific scent (often compared to flowers) that emanates from the bodies of saints.
As a person not participating in any religion, i put a different meaning on the odour of sanctity.
Fragments of nature which reveal themselves now this streets of this once overcrowded city are empty.


Reason, Madness and Hope (2015-2019)

The artist moved to Rome in 2015; in her work she reveals Rome as a contemporary city but strongly linked to its ancient and glorious past and in this she analyses the persons who live in it.
How the people live between reason and madness, madness which is no longer the domain of the witch, the religious seer or the poetic genius but is now the domain of nearly everybody. No human mind is in its right state; to escape reality we can die, become insane or go online.
Reason, an interference between looking and understanding, thinking, between alienation and recognition of a moment of stillness which puts us to thoughts.

The portraits are of people the artist met on the streets of Rome;  all of whom shared their stories, their hopes, their fears. “We are all made of stories”. The portraits serve as a platform that enables its subject(s) to engage in a visual dialogue with the viewer.


Greiden en Leithwalk (2013-2015)

In this series of etchings the artist gives the emptiness in the landscapes a visible meaning. She shows a melancholic rawness, which is also present in the Frisians and its surroundings, translated to (mythical) stories where the emptiness not only gets a different meaning but the viewer will recognise their own part in it. Therefore something unidentified comes to the surface that is often kept hidden, but which is what we secretly desire for and what we long to look at. In the city and the typical Frisian landscapes the characters appear in a enigmatic condition.

Folklore from the Middle Ages and Philosophical observations are a valuable source of inspiration, but the stories from odd folk on the streets or anecdotes from people surrounding her in daily life can also be the inspiration for a new etching. Looking for the magic of daily life can lead to all kinds of stories. In the etchings everything comes together. A modern dream world with a historic layer, a Frisian adaptation of old mythology.
During this period she worked on zinc plates daily; the etching technique itself is centuries old, labor-intensive and time consuming, due to this extensive requirement of time the image is allowed time to develop.


Fabelgestalten & Superhelden (2012)

Her first solo exhibition in the Frisian Museum in 2012 “Fabelgestalten & Superhelden” not only displayed work in the theme described above, but also the series “Icons”, where you can see humans pictured as  21st century icons. This was the first time the artist produced large sized etchings; The Pope, The Girl and the Death shows a 21st century triptych. Where The Pope also represents Obama, The Girl represents the artist herself and Jean D’Arc at the same time, The Death is Michael Jackson with the body from “dance macabre”. The question is; does holiness in this time not have a different meaning? Does it became a different goal in itself?


First works and background (before 2012)

José’s characteristic observations derive from her childhood. She grew up in a nature reserve, in a hamlet just outside of the Frisian city of IJlst.

She started out as a researcher in anthropological field research, where her specialty was the animal, instinctive nature of the human; hidden under a thin layer of “civilisation”. This resulted in images that look like an interhuman zoo, with social, fragile structures. The primitive, animalistic behaviour of a person is of importance, particularly mankind’s attempts to ‘mask’ lower urges. 

José tries to catch and expose these impulses. In her etchings, man reveals himself, seen through her eyes: led by fear and demons, lust and urges; afraid of death or social isolation.
“Maybe everything can be reduced to the contradiction between reason and instinct”, she explains.
“To me, life is a play in which everyone plays different roles. I am the audience that enjoys it, but I can also let it escalate.”

Since 2000 the etching technique became her partner and has never left her side. Since then, she has dedicated herself full time entirely to this technique while changing her habitat, from Frisian countryside to Amsterdam, Den Hague, Leeuwarden, Berlin, Edinburgh, Reijkjavik and, for the last four years, Rome. Since living in Rome she also started working in a variety of media such as photography, collage, digital works, sound and film.




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