Arena for Contemporary African, African-American and Caribbean Art

Jack Whitten





Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego

The Wall, 2011.



Jack Whitten, 1939, Bessemer (USA), lives and works in New York (USA)


New York-based artist Jack Whitten’s earliest experiments with painting date back to the 1960s, a period during which he created dynamic works inspired by abstract expressionism. Noted for their raucous colors and density of gesture, combined with topical content, these artworks manifest emotionally complex meditations on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War.
Experimentation turned to abstraction for Whitten in the 1970s; a new method of painting developed, one that resonates more closely with photography. Gesture is removed from the making of the work; the paint and canvas are “processed”, produced from large troughs of paint, which is dragged across the canvas with tools including squeegees, rakes, and Afro combs. This process yields palpable surface texture, line and void.



Cultural Shift AKA, 2011.

Paint became a metaphor for skin during the 1980s when Whitten experimented with “casting” acrylic paints and compounds to create new surfaces and textures. In contrast to the narrative-based and didactic work made by many Black artists during this period, Whitten’s works reintroduce gesture with aspects of sculpture and collage.
In the 1990s, Whitten’s experiments with paint as a medium progressed further towards sculpture, as he transformed paint compounds into tiles, and applied them to the canvas as mosaics. These works allude to ancient architecture and murals, serving as both an homage to and memorial of celebrated public figures and intimate friends. Whitten’s work has been exhibited in the 1969 and 1972 Whitney Annuals, the landmark 1971 exhibition Contemporary Black Artists in America at the Whitney Museum; Energy/Experimentation: Black Artists and Abstraction 1964–1980 at the Studio Museum in Harlem, NY (2006); and High Times Hard Times: New York Painting 1967-1975, organized by Independent Curators International (2006). Whitten’s 1960s paintings and memorial works have been celebrated in solo exhibitions at P.S.1/MoMA Center for Contemporary Art, New York (2007), and the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center, GA (2008).

JackWhittenDithrosis2010Dithrosis, 2010.
Jack-Whitten-Ode-to-Monet-1-600x436Ode to Monet, 2011.

Elements that will be analysed are the stroke (the way paint is applied but also the typical gesture that distinguishes every painter), the support of the painting (panel, canvas, paper, metal, glass, wall…), the nature and composition of the paint (oil, acrylic, gouache, watercolour, industrial paint…) or other materials that are used to paint (mud, paper, light beams…) Often we can observe that numerous artists use combined techniques illustrating the experimental character that is embodied in the materiality of the work.

JackWhitten82Degrees201182 Degrees, 2011.


jackwhittenClosedLoops2012Closed Loops, 2012. (work on paper)

About Five Decdes of Painting exhibition:

For five decades, Jack Whitten has kept time through his innovative studio process. In his canvases, he explores the possibilities of paint, the role of the artist, and the allure of material essence. As a child of the segregated south, he bears witness to expressions of evil and the resilience of the human spirit. As a diligent formalist, Whitten explores and exploits the newest acrylic and dry pigment media, the register of the image, and the edge of the canvas. As the New York artist, schooled in the sixties and maturing in the seventies, he balances on the fulcrum of the century that was and the century to come. He is an artist of his moment due precisely to his respect for the past and commitment to the present. Whitten creates in the moment in order to harness the essence of matter. From his first spectral canvases, as a graphic trace of a haunted soul, to his recent “Apps for Obama,” a key for complex, contemporary life, Whitten’s poetic and physically compelling compositions capture what is needed, what is left, what is remembered, and what is next. Jack Whitten: Five Decades of Painting surveys this enduring artist’s career with approximately 60 canvasses from the mid-1960s to the present.


WhtittenChineseSincerity195Chinese Sincerity, 1975.

Courtesy: Zeno X Gallery Antwerp.