Jack Whitten, ‘Space Busters II’, 2013, TWO x TWO

Whitten now omits the brush from his painting practice, stating, “I cut paint, I laminate paint, I grind paint, I freeze paint, I boil paint,” just naming a few of his radical techniques. In Space Busters II, Whitten uses a unique translucent mixture of acrylic paint and polyurethane to cast multiple hemispherical reliefs from everyday objects.

New York artist Jack Whitten has been making pivotal abstract paintings since the 1960s, and to this day continues to explore and create cutting edge, process-driven work. Whitten now omits the brush from his practice, stating “I cut paint, I laminate paint, I grind paint, I freeze paint, I boil paint,” just naming a few of his radical techniques. In Space Busters II, Whitten uses a unique translucent mixture of acrylic paint and polyurethane to cast multiple hemispherical reliefs from everyday objects. The final painting creates an amazing, yet strange, spatial juxtaposition for the viewer, a unique feeling that has been the impetus for most of Jack Whitten’s artistic pursuits. Whitten’s work was exhibited in the 1969 and 1972 Whitney Biennials; the landmark 1971 exhibition Contemporary Black Artists in America at the Whitney Museum of American Art; Energy/Experimentation: Black Artists and Abstraction 1964–1980 at The Studio Museum in Harlem; and High Times Hard Times: New York Painting 1967–1975, organized by Independent Curators International; Blues for Smoke, organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; and The Encyclopedic Palace at the 55th Venice Biennale. Recent solo exhibitions include P.S.1/MoMA Center for Contemporary Art, New York, the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center, and Savannah College of Art and Design. Whitten’s work will be the subject of solo shows Light Years: Jack Whitten, 1971–1973 at the Rose Museum, Brandeis University, Waltham, and Jack Whitten: Evolver at The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Ridgefield. A retrospective exhibition of Whitten’s work will be presented at the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego, in fall 2014.

About Jack Whitten

Early on, Jack Whitten was influenced by both the Bauhaus and Abstract Expressionism, but after meeting William de Kooning the balance tilted toward the latter. Blending figuration and abstraction, Whitten’s emotionally riveting gestural works—including a series on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.—touched upon the racial turmoil he understood so well as an African American from the South. The 1970s marked a stylistic rupture, after which Whitten endeavored to define “a new spatial perception” by “experimenting with the possibilities of paint without imposing the added burden of psychological implications.” In this vein, he began to draw large fields of color across his canvases with Afro combs, squeegees, and homemade rakes to create what he called “Energy Fields”. Whitten’s recent experimentations take the form of mosaics, wherein he transforms paint compounds into tiles and applies them to canvas.

American, b. 1939, Bessemer, Alabama, based in New York, New York