Wabi-Sabi: Peter J. Ketchum

Words and images by Peter J. Ketchum

Wabi-sabi is an ancient Japanese aesthetic that values the imperfect, the handmade, the damaged or flawed, and the simple.

Wabi-sabi finds beauty in things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete. It finds beauty in things modest and humble. Wabi-sabi celebrates the flawed beauty that comes with age and the rough wear and tear of life.

Wabi-sabi embraces the natural cycle of growth and decay. The life of an object and its impermanence are evidenced in patina and wear, including rips, any visible repairs (scotch tape or glue) or additions: pen, ink, stains, pencil marks. I have stamped each work in the series with wabi-sabi written in Japanese characters.

Richard Powell, a wabi-sabi scholar, wrote, “Wabi-sabi nurtures all that is authentic by acknowledging three simple realities: nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect.”

Every Body Likes Butch

Everybody Likes Butch is a 7.5×5.5 work on paper. A b&w studio photo was blown up, cut out, hand-colored (prismacolor markers, paint pen) and mounted on a 1947 children’s book cover.

The woman in the picture is Joe Carstairs born Marian Barbara Carstairs in London in 1900. She was a Standard Oil heiress who would have been happier born an heir. Usually dressed as a man, Joe had tattooed arms, and raced fast cars, speedboats and ambulances. She had numerous affairs with women, including Dolly Wilde, Oscar’s niece, as well as Garbo, Bankhead and Dietrich. Carstairs died in Florida in 1993 clutching Lord Tod Wadley, a cherished doll given to her many years before by her girlfriend Ruth Baldwin.

The book Everybody Likes Butch by Bernice Bryant (1906-1976) was published in 1947. Bryant was a Missouri-born author of children’s books including P’S and Q’s for Boys and Girls. Would the the P’s and Q’s still be relevant today?

Butch is part of the sexual identity lexicon. Male or female. Is the term elastic? And are identifying terms harmful or useful?

Peter J. Ketchum received a degree in fine arts from Colby College, did additional study at the School for Visual Arts in NYC, and studied filmmaking at NYU. He also studied privately with George Baer.

The Brooklyn-based artist’s work is in the permanent collections of the Smithsonian Institute, 
The Norfolk History Museum, Colby, and the (late great) Guggenheim Downtown. His work has been shown at The Brooklyn Museum, The Bushnell, The Springfield Museum of Fine Art, The Discovery Museum (2 person show), and the Connecticut Sports Museum.  Five works were included in “35 Artists of North America,” curated by Thomas Krens, the former head of the Guggenheim. The artist has shown in solo and group shows in Boston and NYC, including Exit Art, Lumina, MetroPictures, SOHO 20, HERE,the Williamsburg (Brooklyn) Art Center, ArtWell, Bachelier/Cardonsky and the Charter Oak Cultural Center, TNC Gallery/NYC, and Saatchi on Line. 

Ketchum founded and curated the exhibits at Gallery on Dean. He was also the curator  at  TNC Gallery  NY NY.

Artists To Watch publishes his greeting card series worldwide. See More of his work on his website, on Facebook, and on Instagram.

1 reply »

  1. I continue enjoying all of your work and sensibility! Please continue to keep me on your list of devoted fans, thank you!


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