OT (371), 2021, Oil on Yupo, 14 x 11 in.

OT (349), 2021, Oil on Yupo, 21 x 25 in.

OT (351), 2021, Oil on Yupo, 25 x 21 in.

OT (373), 2021, Oil on Yupo, 12.5 x 8.7 in.

OT (368), 2021, Oil on Yupo, 11.7 x 16.5 in.

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Viktor Witkowski


To identify as painter means that I must ask myself how to consolidate the need for self-expression with the urgency to respond to contemporary events. At the same time, the O.T. paintings (German: ohne titel, or untitled) are not just an abnormality within my practice. They refer to landscapes which I have been painting on and off for the past two decades. The O.T. landscapes depict imagined places in transformation: areas open up, collide, collapse, melt and reshape. At the same time, these transformations point to the processes of painting which help to evoke spaces in crisis.

   - Excerpt from artist statement

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How have these landscape paintings grown from other work you have done that relates more specifically to contemporary events?

Starting in 2009, I began to work on a series of small oil on panel landscape paintings. They were based on either official military photographs taken by the coalition troops who had invaded Afghanistan in 2001 or on low-quality footage of propaganda videos created by the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. That year, the brilliant book “War at a Distance: Romanticism and the Making of Modern Wartime” by Mary Favret was published in which she discusses Britain as a colonial power in the eighteenth and nineteenth century. She is particularly interested to show how visual representations – such as landscape paintings – helped to educate a nation about their country’s far-away wars: places most people would never experience in person. Landscape paintings (or prints in newspapers) depicting locations in occupied India, for example, had the goal to show the land now under the control of the British. Favret’s book got me to think about the subject of landscape within painting. In that sense, I saw landscape not just as a way to represent nature or our own imagination projected onto landscape, but as a site of war, terror, control, and colonialism.    

I painted about two dozen of these paintings, with each one based on a different province of Afghanistan. The last one was painted in 2015 and in early 2016 I started to shift toward a more process-driven approach to landscape painting. These are the beginnings of my current “O.T.” works. I was looking for alternatives to gessoed wooden panels. That’s when my friend Heide Fasnacht suggested: “Why don’t you try YUPO paper?” I had no idea what she was talking about and so I bought some of that paper to try it out. (It is recyclable, synthetic paper which is now available under various brand names. YUPO is one of them.). It became the steepest learning curve I ever had to deal with! Nothing I had learned from working on canvas, linen and panels worked with YUPO. It was a total disaster in the beginning. But it was also very exciting to face that challenge. It’s a great lesson to learn that specific materials like paints, brushes, surfaces, etc. can have a significant impact on what direction our practice might take. That’s why it is important to always stay open and not settle on a signature style and call it a day.

What does ‘landscape’ mean to you? What does it entail or contain?

Throughout my work, l have been trying to point to various aspects of what ‘landscape’ can be. ‘Landscape’ as a site of history, power, violence, and terror. ‘Landscape’ as a way to represent our inner realities, to make visible what otherwise cannot be shown. ‘Landscape’ as a way to give shape to the imaginary. ‘Landscape’ as a means to depict something abstract in concrete ways (and vice versa). ‘Landscape’ as a way to describe, limit or expand the idea of ‘nature’. The list goes on…it’s such a versatile and bottomless genre.

I don’t think it comes as a big surprise that I am a huge fan of the German Romantics. The idea of the so-called ‘sublime’ is usually brought up when Romanticism is mentioned. But in particular the German Romantics were fascinated by the concept of a “productive nature”, which describes nature as a productive, animated force. So next time you see a Caspar David Friedrich painting, ignore the symbolism and ‘moody’ aspect of his work, and think of his landscapes as alive and ever-changing. This has been the driving idea behind my “O.T.” works: not so much landscape as a space, but as an animated subject in its own right where things shift, collide and never remain static.  

What is your process like for these works? Are they completely imaginary, or pulled from different sources or specific research?

For my figurative paintings, I search through photographs and other visual material that then serve as a direct reference for my work. It’s very different with the “O.T.”- paintings (the title “O.T.” comes from the German “Ohne Titel” and means “Untitled”). They are imagined and not planned. They are usually created within the moment and the closest I have been able to come to improvisation within painting. But when you state: “These paintings are imagined.”, it almost goes without saying that this isn’t quite true. We always rely on pre-existing images like other works, films, paintings, experiences, memories, thoughts, and so on. In my case, I try to see as many exhibitions as possible and I do seek out artists or venues that work in different media and around different concerns than I do. The point is to get some unexpected ideas from those encounters. I am not just walking around only looking at landscape paintings. Even though, I should add, when I encounter a landscape painting, I will spend the most time in front of it.