“As a kid, I thought I wanted to be an artist… or maybe a musician,” says David Witbeck. “As a high school senior my choices were music school in Potsdam, NY (the boonies, -40 in the winter), or Art School in the Big Apple. What would you choose?”
Did he choose New York City? Yes. He studied at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn for three years. Did he stay in New York? Yes. However, after quickly becoming “disenchanted with the crazy New York art scene of the time,” he read The Painted Word by Tom Wolfe, and photography seemed like a much more relevant pursuit. He became aware of, “nitty-gritty black and white street photography and photojournalism.” He transferred to Rochester Institute of Technology. Rochester was not only home to a photography program, but also to his then pregnant girlfriend. “Ah, the 60’s,” says Witbeck as he looks back.
“A very young marriage and parenthood necessitated finding whatever work I could,” says David. Darkroom assistant, wheelchair mobile driver, employment counselor…the irony! He eventually took a job as a yearbook photographer. Still not art, but getting there. After three years he quit and took a job with a small weekly newspaper. “The pay was less, but I could build up my photojournalism portfolio.” Art, right?
“Eventually frustration, poverty, disappointment, etc., led to divorce, at which point I decided to ‘bleep’ it all and just drive a truck,” says Witbeck. Sometimes taking a step back is necessary in order to take a step forward. After a year of driving a small fish-delivery truck, he made the decision to go big or go home. “As long as I am driving a truck, I should drive a ‘real’ truck,” he had thought. He took lessons, received his NY Class 1 license, and for the next six years was a Teamster driving tractor-trailers. Now that, ladies and gentleman, is an art.
“Driving trailers could be great fun in good weather, but a little terrifying in Rochester winters when, by March, there could be ten feet of accumulated snow,” David recalls. With the threat of becoming an old Teamster, he applied and was accepted to Rhode Island School of Design in 1980. Finally, the world of art had found its way back into his life.
He sold just about everything he owned and moved to Providence. “I graduated with a BFA in photography in 1982 at the age of thirty-five.” He had a couple beat-up cameras, a few sticks of furniture, his clothes, a few thousand in debt… and the promise of a job with a major daily newspaper to his name. “The job failed to materialize. The photo editor wanted me, Human Resources demanded a woman… I was the wrong gender. What now!?”
Lucky for us the “what now?” ended up eventually putting him on a path to the larger-than-life seaside fishing and lobstering paintings that grace the walls of Maine Art Paintings and Sculpture. Alongside them hang the picturesque scenes of harbor villages and coastal life that Witbeck is known for in New England. In May, Maine Art is lucky enough to be hosting a one-man show of David Witbeck’s work; offering more insight into this fascinating man, his history and the what, where and who that finally helped him find this Artist’s Life.
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