Jerome Witkin is a painter with a mission.
The artist, who launches Towson State's visiting artist speaker series tomorrow evening, "is a figurative and narrative painter in the grand tradition," says Carmen Robb, Towson faculty member and coordinator of the series.
"He has done a lot of religious imagery and Holocaust imagery, along with traditional nudes," Robb adds. "He deals with the darker side of human nature, and basically he has a social message."
Witkin's lecture, which is free, is in part an effort of the Towson State art department to raise its image in the community.
"We have had visiting artists for about 15 years," says Robb, "one individual a year. This year we decided to use the visiting artist funds for department enhancement, give it a higher profile, make people think about art at Towson."
Witkin, 56 and a native of Brooklyn, N.Y., taught at the Maryland Institute, College of Art in the early 1960s and now teaches at the University of Syracuse. His lecture will be on his work.
A painter who has acknowledged his debt to early 20th century German social protest artist Kathe Kollwitz, Witkin has dealt with torture, political prisoners, the Nazi regime, drug addiction and domestic upheaval. "I have worked to find something of a loaded agenda," he says. "I want to have something that's both aesthetic and accessible for the viewer, because so much of the public thinks art is too complicated for them to understand."
Witkin often paints in series, such as the five-panel "A Jesus for Our Time," in which the artist pictures a modern-day evangelist who suffers degradation and despair. In a related work, "Self-Portrait with a Jesus for Our Time," Witkin pictures himself as a shadowy figure at the side of the white-suited evangelist. The artist fills the role of God in the work, creator of this "Jesus," and the painting implies that creative artists in the modern world have the opportunity to fulfill a godlike function by giving the world a moral agenda.
This and many of Witkin's works are highly theatrical or, as he calls them, "operatic," and they require and reward time spent probing the images for complex meanings. "Someone once asked Faulkner, 'How long should it take me to read your book?' Witkin says, "And he said, 'In the best of all worlds, as long as it took me to write it'."
Other lecturers in the series include:
* Leonard Koscianski (Nov. 14), who specializes in intensely painted, emotion-laden and sometimes violent animal imagery.
* William Beckman (Feb. 14), whose empathetic and celebratory paintings depict landscape, still life and in particular the human figure.
* William Daley (March 12), ceramic sculptor who creates sometimes monumental vessel-shaped pieces in both utilitarian and sculptural forms.
* Kiki Smith (April 18), whose sculpture examines the human body both as a whole and in terms of its individual elements.
* Workshop events open to the public, space permitting: painter Peggy Cyphers' Feb. 28 and Feb. 29 workshop on how artists can deal with the "real world," including portfolio preparation, resume writing and related subjects; metalsmith Anne Krohn Graham's April 3 lecture given as part of her workshop on metalwork.
What: Visiting Artists Series
Where: Towson State University Fine Arts Building, Osler and Cross Campus drives
When: Lectures evenings at 7:30 p.m.
$ Call: (410) 830-2809