Tag Archives: American

Judith and the Clown

ONE OF THE MOST EXCITING OPPORTUNITIES EVER – this depiction of Judith comes with THE ARTIST’S SKETCHBOOK!  It’s the next-best-thing to reading the mind of Jerome Witkin.  From this vantage point, the viewer can trace the progress of Witkin’s thoughts about constructing the Judith story.  And his thoughts on his role an artist:

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. (1)

But first, to introduce the artist. Jerome Witkin is a figurative artist who delves into political, social and cultural themes. That is an understatement.  Witkin is considered one of the most relevant artists of the last few decades – turning figurative narrative works into a passionate expression of basic human conditions.  His canvases exude both humor and suffering in the storytelling of homelessness and the Holocaust.  A casual blog is too small a space to give credit to Witkin; an entire book is a better way to travel the landscape of the intensity of his work (see Sherry Chayat ‘s Life Lessons: The Art of Jerome Witkin, 2006).  For today, the focus is on Judith and Witkin’s re-creation of her story in 1979.

Prior to and during this composition, Witkin had endeavored with the larger-than-life murals “Kill-Joy, To the Passion of Kathe Kollwitz (Kreischerville Wall)” (1975-76) and “Death As An Usher: Berlin, 1933″ (1979-82) relating to the catastrophe of war and the Holocaust.  “The Act of Judith” is small potatoes in comparison – smaller in size and smaller in emotional scope.  According to Chayat:

During this period, Witkin began exploring portraiture as a vehicle for psychological narrative. Working with the model as a collaborator in mutually created dramatic poses, he developed an epic portrait style using mythology, both historical and contemporary, to probe his own and other’s anxieties, fears, and fantasies.

This period of exploration would produce “Madonna della Baggies,” “St. Fischera, and “Screams of Kitty Genovese” as well as “The Act of Judith.”

A few pages from The Act of Judith Sketchbook provide clues to Witkin’s creative process for Judith –

Page 2 Page 5Page 19Page 20

Removed from contemporary realities of death and destruction, the subject of Judith reverts to an Old Testament narrative that may-or-may-not be true.  On spectrum of interpretation of the story, Witkin’s Judith is less virtuous and more vile as she taunts the viewer with a clownish Mask of Death.

Or is it a Mask?

Judith (1979) Jerome Witkin

Jerome Witkin (1939 – ), “The Act of Judith,” 1979–80, Oil on canvas, 60 x48 inches, Palmer Museum of Art, The Pennsylvania State University State College, Pennsylvannia, US

The use of light and dark enhances the ominous atmosphere of the run-down interior, with brightness dissolving into a demonic red cast on the right wall.  Judith stands half in shadow, her face almost obscured – but the hand with the knife clearly outlined by the brightness escaping from the torn curtain in the background.  The hand that holds forth the mask is also illuminated by a light that gives a grisly gleam to the ghoulish features.

And the most disturbing feature of all?  Almost unseen, the hand of the viewer in the lower right corner.  Fingers curled, they convey grasping, begging, desperation.  Suggesting a disabled Holofernes prostate beneath Judith’s gaze, suggesting that we are the disabled victim – and she is expressionless with no sympathy to offer.

The world of Witkin is a harsh reality of muddy and bloody hands.

(1) Joel C. Sheesley, “Jerome Witkin: A Profile,” Image,Issue #11, Fall 1995

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Posted by on March 4, 2015 in Gory


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Judith goes for the throat

The throat of an opera singer, that is.

Judith (2013) Tyson Vick 1

Tyson Vick, “The Widow of Manasses,” 2013,

You may recall that Tyson Vick has been here before in Judith finds her voice (Nov 2011).  His blog chronicles his photography that illustrates the operas of Mozart as well as his learning about textiles, historical costuming, wig styling, millinery, and photoshop techniques in the process.  This time he is back with more elaborate costuming and photography of Judith – and two big prizes for his photography! Wedding & Portrait Photographers International (WPPI) – which includes members world-wide from all genres of photography, including fine art, commercial, and advertising – conducts two Members Only Competitions each year.  In 2014, Tyson Vick won first place in the Creative Division – Composite of Members Only First Half Competition with “Judith, Triumphant” AND third place for “Don Giovanni Act 2.”  But enough about Don Giovanni and back to Judith.

Judith (2013) Tyson Vick 2b

Tyson Vick, “Judith, Triumphant,” 2013,

Isn’t she stunning?  I mean, it’s easy to see why Holofernes lost his head. Not only is the photography award winning, but the costuming – based on the portraits of Judith by Lucas Cranach the Elder – is exquisite.  The construction of this luscious gown is detailed here, with lively commentary by Vick – who loves to indulge in one of my favorite things:  sewing in front of the television.  (Yes, I was groomed for genteel evenings with an embroidery hoop before the hearth rather than a sweaty hour of Zumba but alas those days are gone.)  Vick also photographed his progress so that the intricate details of the gown can be appreciated off the model.


Tyson Vick, “La Betulia Liberata – Costume Diary, A Cranach Gown,” May 14, 2012,


Tyson Vick, “La Betulia Liberata – Costume Diary, A Cranach Gown,” May 14, 2012,


Tyson Vick, “La Betulia Liberata – Costume Diary, A Cranach Gown,” May 14, 2012,

The final photograph is Judith in action, on stage during Act 2 of Mozart’s Betulia Liberata.  Composed in 1771 when Mozart was 15 years old, it is the only oratorio he ever wrote.  Maybe he thought one was enough?

Judith (2013) Tyson Vick 3

Tyson Vick, “La Betulia Liberata, Act 2,” 2013,


Posted by on February 16, 2015 in Story


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Judith: Past, Present, Future

Writing a blog is so gratifying and narcissistic.  I can choose the subjects, I decide what I write, I don’t have a deadline and I can choose when to publish.  I can even re-write it after it has been published.  And best of all: I can let new artists speak for themselves.

This is the work of Daria Souvorova, who graduated from Pratt Institute and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and currently is the Artist-in-Residence at PrattMWP and instructs at Munson-Williams-Proctor Art Institute.  Actually, Daria’s most insightful work so far: The Seven Deadly Sins.  Check it out!  She not only sketches and paints but also writes eloquently about her art.  So I am going to take a break, and allow her words to describe Judith and Holofernes.

I began the fall semester with a large scale drawing and painting on the theme of Judith beheading Holofernes. This composition, and the transition thereof, reflects my thinking process over the summer, and the evolution between the roles of heroes and villains in my life.

Instead of choosing the traditional moment depicting Holofernes struggling for his life, I chose to show him in the moment before he is beheaded. I drew him fluid and slumping onto the Fury’s grip. He is delirious and in denial. Smiling, in fact. He is incapable of taking responsibility for his actions and does not even understand his punishment.

Holofernes (2012) Daria Souvorova

The fluid movement between the figures in this work became important. The lighting also played a big role: Holofernes is almost completely in silhouette, which separates him from Judith who is brilliantly lit against the darkness of the wall behind her. Fury wields the sword that pierces the space. It points toward the bed and alludes to the nature of the punishment. A sliver of light follows the edge of the sword and is mirrored by the silhouette of the woman on the bed, that Holofernes was just dragged off of.

Judith 2 (2012) Daria Souvorova

Judith (2012) Daria Souvorova

Fury (2012) Daria Souvorova

The slashing of the blade became a very important movement in the composition. I wanted to emphasize it. I originally composed a three-figure grouping –  the bulk of the right panel. I added a second panel to the left to allow room for the blade. This was the first instance in which I began to reconsider the symmetrical rhythm of my compositions. The figure’s silhouette is the only light on the bulk of the left panel, and as the figure disintegrates almost entirely save for the sliver of light that mirrors the sword, the figure proves unimportant outside of its role of identifying the secondary villain.

Doorway (2012) Daria Souvorova

Returning to the Judith and Holofernes painting: I became interested in segregating the hero and villain through taking advantage of pushing some figures towards Idealization, and others towards Characterization.  I created more specificity in the gestures and features of the figures, and began to find interest in the spaces that surrounded them.  The angle of the doorway and the groupings of figures that melted away into the light began to be considered as narrative devices, as much as representations of the main characters.  I was thrilled to paint the chair and the fabric that envelops it – the violet folds of a yellow pillow became characters of their own right. I repainted the composition in halves and was delighted at the improvement of each section yet continuously dismayed as previously successful areas appeared inferior in comparison. This painting took over three months to complete and became a representation of the progress of my narratives.


Daria Souvorova (1988 – ), “Judith and Holofernes,” 2012, Oil on Linen, 46 x 68 in,


Looking at the completed Judith and Holofernes in conjunction with my drawings and the portraits I have been working on, I was surprised at the stark difference between the drawings and the painting.

Judith and Holofernes was a very black and white composition for me, created at a time when I was focused on morality and a strict intended narrative in my works. Seeing it set against the relative subtlety of the portraits made me realize the level of theatricality in the image.  At this point, I began searching for more earnestness and connection between the viewer and my images.


I am very appreciative of Daria’s own words because they address several questions (and gave me some time off).  However, I must confess:  my first interpretation of this composition was a time-lapse version of the story.  I saw Judith-before, Judith-during and Judith-after.  How interesting that perspective seems in comparison to the artist’s explanation – but still not a bad way to look at the movement across the canvas, in my humble opinion.

Just one thing that remains unexplained:  in the center of the execution, as background to the action is a painting on the wall.  It looks a lot like … curious Psyche and sleeping Cupid. At least Cupid escapes the dagger and only had to endure the wax from Psyche’s lamp – and doesn’t end up like Holofernes.

Psyche (2012) Daria Souvorova


Daria Souvorova, Cupid and Psyche, 2012, Pastel on Cotton Rag 29×22 in.,

+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +

With delight, I received an email from Daria with an article about one of her students, “Seven Deadly Sins” and her upcoming “Lost and Gained.”  I think I will be able to relate to Lost and Gained.  Mostly Gained.

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Posted by on February 7, 2015 in Story


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Judith falls in love (again)

The New York Times, Art & Design Section, January 28, 2015: “Kehinde Wiley Puts a Classical Spin on His Contemporary Subjects,” By Deborah Solomon

Kehinde Wiley began thinking about the stereotypes that shadow black men long before events in Ferguson, Mo., pushed the phrase “unarmed black man” back into the headlines and inaugurated a new wave of the civil rights movement…

Now 37, Mr. Wiley is one of the most celebrated painters of his generation. He is known for vibrant, photo-based portraits of young black men (and occasionally women) who are the opposite of scared — they gaze out at us coolly, their images mashed up with rococo-style frills and empowering poses culled from art history.

And as testament to the opposite of scared – bold, brave, cool, courageous, confident, encouraged – Wiley stands in front of his latest portrait of (ta-DA) Judith!!

Kehinde Wiley (2015) Chad Batka for The New York Times

Kehinde Wiley (2015), photo by Chad Batka for The New York Times


I loved the first Judith by Wiley this first time I saw her, discussed in (obviously) Judith Falls in Love on March 29, 2013.  This second Judith – actually Judith Beheading Holofernes – is part of Wiley’s first museum retrospective “A New Republic” at the Brooklyn Museum, opening February 20.  It then travels to museums in Fort Worth, Seattle and Richmond, VA.  So I know get to decide where I would most like to view this Judith as we travel the US of A.  In which case, I can obtain the medium and dimensions to add to my specs.

But in the meantime, this is the best I can do.  Judith dressed as a Capulet on a ground of orange nasturtiums and light blue fleur-de-lis – swinging the head of a very feminine Holofernes.

And holding a Very Pointy Knife.  Which I don’t think is used for food preparation.

Judith (2012)

Kehinde Wiley, “Judith Beheading Holofernes,” 2012, Brooklyn Museum of Art, Brooklyn, NY, USA. Photo: Benjamin Sutton.


Thanks to oatmealgirl09 for bringing this to my attention!

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Posted by on February 2, 2015 in Glory


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Judith and the scissors

Awww. How sad. Accidents do happen and little girls can be so sensitive to the stuffed animals they nurture. You want to help them mend the damage and yet …

Judith (2012) Neona Karageorgos

Neona Karageorgos, “Judith Slaying Holofernes,” 2012, Charcoal/Pastel drawing, 18 x 24 in, N.Karas Art blog


… this picture is not what it seems.

As Neona graciously describes the scene:

My pastel artwork, Judith Slaying Holofernes, is named after the painting done by Artemisia Gentileschi, a baroque painter and someone whom I view as a strong and accomplished woman of her time, especially being a woman in the time period she was living in.

My artwork was a project in college. We had to choose an artist as an inspiration, take their artwork and create our own twist and interpretation of their work in our own piece. The contradiction of a female character committing what would be seen as a violent and masculine act, drew my attention. My own artwork tends to have morbid propensities, so naturally I chose this painting as my inspiration. I also like to show contradictions and have an element of surprise to my work.

I had my younger sister and my niece pose for the pastel drawing. I wanted to show innocence committing a dark act. They didn’t actually cut the stuffed animals head off, I drew it that way, but it was drawn subtle enough that many people who view the drawing ( it is hanging up in my office), don’t see the scissors right away. When they do notice are intrigued by the drawing that much more. You wouldn’t expect such sinister behavior from the seemingly innocent children, nor would one expect a woman to commit such a heinous act like a beheading.

I don’t know why I keep laughing .. and then frowning.  Maybe I should ask what these little girls are doing today … or maybe not.  But whatever the outcome, Neona nailed it.

You may also want to see her other work as a tattoo artist here.  The bowling pins are my favorite.

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Posted by on January 30, 2015 in Gory


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Judith and the Pin-Up

As long as I was talking about pin-up art yesterday, it seems like a good time to share these inviting cards from Katie Hill, compliments of her friend and fellow graphic artist Erika Gibson.

Judith (2014) Katie Hill

Katie Hill, Judith & Holofernes, 2014,


Pin-ups are drawings, paintings, and other illustrations that emulate photos of models who were public or available as sex symbols and their images were meant to be “pinned-up” on a wall.  They are considered idealized versions of what a beautiful or attractive woman should look like.  Think of Betty Grable, Bettie Page, the Vargas girls, and early Marilyn Monroe.

Let’s just say Judith appears to be pretty please with herself.  So who wouldn’t want to receive a greeting card with her assets displayed in order to share in her celebration?  Even if it means a little sacrifice from Holofernes.

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Posted by on January 28, 2015 in Whorey


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Judith and the Cuppa Joe

After about a year and 4 months, it seems about time to wake up and smell the coffee.

Looks like Conrad Melt’s “Judith” is ready to take on hostess duties.

Judith (2013) Ira Carter

Ira Carter, “Holofernes,” 2013, Photocollage, 3 1/3” x 6 3/4”,


Last time we saw this Judith was exactly 3 years ago today.  Uh … that’s a weird coincidence and not at all contrived.  But here she is again, using Holofernes’ severed head as a coffee urn to serve her guest in (what appears to be) Sabino Canyon outside Tucson, Arizona.

I will confess: I love collages when they are done well. The combination of different times and themes and styles can be quite clever in telling a surprising story.  And Ira Carter is a master at collages – and at staying out of the limelight, because it has been next to impossible to find anything about him.  A good guess is to look at Ira Carter Art or Art From the Future where you can find more intriguing collages.  Actually, I will defer to Moray Mair from Mutant Space who sums it up quite well –

Ira Carter’s collages are rooted in esoteric iconography, pop art and the Victorian obsession with the occult and the discovery of objects from the ancient world. There are plenty of pagan symbols, pop culture iconography from the 1950’s and illustrations of animals from old encyclopaedias in each collage, a strange juxtaposition of the modern with the ancient, the digital and the mechanical, pop art and vintage photography.

This amalgam of pictures, gleaned from disparate sources, creates a unsettling feeling in Carter’s collages, an incongruity that you can’t quite shake off, the images playing off each other uneasily, banging together, trying to fit but not quite managing it, creating an energy that permeates through every digital collage.

I’d love to know more about Ira Carter, his collages are strange hybrids, his use of imagery clever. But he’s a cypher, there is nothing on him anywhere, only his work exists. So without any starting point I decided to look up the meaning of his name. Perhaps its origins had something to do with his preoccupation with the ancient world.

And what I found was quite interesting for Ira means watchful in Hebrew, was the name of King David’s priest and in Sanskrit is the name of the wind-god who is father of the monkey god Hanuman. So now you know.”


War on Women

Ira Carter, “War on Women”

Satan Was a Baker

Ira Carter, “Satan Was A Baker”


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Posted by on January 10, 2015 in Cacciatore


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