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Joe Letitia
by Stuart Servetar

Joe Letitia, untitled, 1997, c-print 30" x 20"
Joe Letitia, untitled, 1996, oil on wood 16" x 32' x 10"

Once, in Prague, I overheard this exchange between two artists. One, a painter, did narrative work involving the history of East Europe. The other, a sculptor, made votive sculptures with enormous pudenda. The conversation took place in the painter's home. The sculptor noticed one of her host's paintings. It featured a view through a window of Prague Castle. Prague Castle is a picturesque and oft-recorded site perched on a hill above the city. The sculptor, on viewing the painter's rendition, gave out an audible "Ugh," and said, "Not Prague Castle!" The painter retorted, "Yeah, it's kind of like making penis and vagina art. You have to do it once and then get over it."

It's a pity Joe Letitia was not privy to that conversation. A normally interesting and engaging, if not somewhat literal, artistic mind, he has taken several steps backward in this most recent show. In prior exhibits, Letitia explored the grain of plywood and the lay of the land in paintings, drawings and relief sculptures. Although by painting faithfully within the lines of the plywood veneer, Letitia somewhat failed to bring any hint of imagination into his process, he nonetheless brought to the fore grown-up visual issues regarding the generation of imagery. Sadly, for the artist, that was not enough. For this recent show, Letitia decided to go the whole penis and vagina route--presumably because he was either gettin' it or not gettin' it. To execute the series, Letitia scoured the forest for tree trunks with gashes left by missing limbs. He photographed the resulting scarified tissue and voilà, a series of found vulva. Of course as a painter/sculptor with an exhibition history, he couldn't abandon his old oeuvre entirely. He managed to combine his old methods with his new breakthrough direction to create relief paintings with wooden penis protrusions. The absent limbs from the trees in the photos restored through the powers of art!

Somewhere Freud is blushing.

Stuart Servetar

New York, New York

1997

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