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Jerome Witkin

(1939 - )

Jerome Witkin is a Jewish American painter.

He was born on September 13, 1939 in Brooklyn, NY to a Jewish father and a Roman Catholic mother and has a twin brother, Joel Peter Witkin, who is a photographer. His parents were unable to transcend their religious differences and divorced while Witkin was still young. He attended the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, Cooper Union, the Berlin Academy, and the University of Pennsylvania.

Witkin’s art often deals with death, perhaps because of his many experiences with it as a child. When Witkin’s father died at age fifty, after living several years homeless on the streets, Witkin decided he wanted to understand his father better. He began exploring his Jewish roots and read extensively about Jewish history, anti-Semitism, and the Holocaust. His interest culminated in his twenty-three year series of Holocaust themed paintings.

Witkin is considered to be one of today’s great narrative painters and is unafraid to deal with political themes.  His paintings have focused on assassinations, torture, and the AIDS crisis, though he is most famous for his series on the Holocaust. The realistic depictions were designed to overwhelm the audience with their historical reality. Critics regard Witkin’s Holocaust series as the most compelling of paintings made on the subject.

Witkin is a professor of art at Syracuse University in upstate New York, and has had his paintings shown in over one hundred exhibitions since 1966. His works are also found in many permanent collections worldwide, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Hirshhorn, and the Uffizi, a Florence art gallery that is the most famous one in the Western world.

Sources: Syracuse University Press, Art for Change, The Jewish Journal, University of Minnesota, Tribes