Uwe Wittwer is widely regarded as one of the leading contemporary European painters. He has exhibited internationally since the 1990s and his work is in major international collections including The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, the Bonnefantenmuseum in Maastricht and the Kunsthaus Zürich.
Wittwer’s oil paintings, watercolours, charcoal drawings and inkjet prints reflect on the nature and meaning of images. His sources are carefully chosen from digital representations – images of images – researched in the depths of the internet. Documentary photography, family snapshots, pop culture, film stills and Old Master paintings are all subjected to the lens of Wittwer’s critical process. A wide range of subjects – still-life, portraiture and landscape – emerge thematically in his works, interweaving cultural and historical references with notions of collective and personal memory. Throughout his work, Wittwer is concerned with ideas of authenticity and truth, and the role of the artist as archivist and voyeur. Watchtowers are a recurring image and can be read as a cipher for the figure of the artist as a panoptic observer.
Wittwer’s still-lives, interiors, landscapes and portraits are not only representations of a visible reality, they are rather tools for questioning our own viewing habits. Wittwer’s works inquire into the important issue of the relationship between image, effect and reality – an almost existential question in the age of the internet and the resulting difficulty of distinguishing ‘real’ and ‘fake’. In his exhibitions, Wittwer further complicates the viewing experience by creating immersive environments. Recent shows have seen him creating dense salon hangs, placing paintings directly onto large-scale wall drawings, or mixing wall works with free standing painted glass structures.
Wittwer’s highly referential practice often appropriates or adapts imagery by artists such ranging from Caspar David Friedrich, Sebastian Brant and Pieter de Hooch to Poussin, Caravaggio or Jan van Belcamp. At the same time, he frequently references filmmakers including Derek Jarman, Michelangelo Antonioni and Andrei Tarkovsky. Several recent series have seen him create extended watercolour sequences using stills from films such as Jarman’s The Last of England, Antonioni’s Blow Up and Kenji Mizoguchi’s Ugetsu Monogatari.
In dealing with his historical source material, Wittwer works through a process of deconstruction. Strategies include rendering images as negatives or using repetition, fragmentation or reversal. Through such strategies the original images are transformed, creating alternative realities. His works suggest that new meanings and new possibilities can be discovered within pre-existing images, no matter how familiar. The beauty of his work is often only a lure that, upon closer inspection, gives way to the latent horror lurking behind the façade of bourgeois existence.
Uwe Wittwer (born 1954, Zürich) lives and works in Zürich. Recent solo exhibitions include Parafin, London (2022, 2018, 2015), Galerie Peter Kilchmann, Zurich (2021, 2019), Galerie Judin, Berlin (2021, 2018, 2016, 2013), Musée Ariana, Geneva (2020), Kunsthaus Grenchen (2019), Kunstraum Oktagon, Bern (2017), Abbot Hall Art Gallery, Kendal (2013), VOID, Derry (2012) and Haunch of Venison, London (2011, 2009). Recent group exhibitions include Museum Franz Gertschm, Burgdorf (2020), Kunstmuseum Bern (2019), Herbert Art Gallery, Coventry (2018), Museum Langmatt, Baden, Switzerland (2017), Kunstmuseum Solothurn (2013), Kunsthaus Centre d’Art Pasquart, Biel (2012), Tate Britain, London (2011) and the Courtauld Institute, London (2010).
Wittwer's work is included in public and institutional collections including The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Bonnefantenmuseum Maastricht, Kunsthaus Zürich, Sammlung Ludwig, Aachen, Kunstmuseum Bern, Kunstmuseum Solothurn, Museum zu Allerheiligen, Schaffhausen, Sammlung Bosshard, UBS Art Collection, Credit Suisse Art Collection, Caldic Collection and the David and Indrė Roberts Collection.