Monday, September 14, 2015

Sculpting Paint for the Future

“I have changed the verb “to paint”:
I don’t paint a painting, I make a painting.

Jack Whitten

Growing up in Alabama during the early years of the Civil Rights movement followed by the wars and social turmoil of the latter half of the 20th Century and the start of the 21st, which has informed a lot of his work, American abstract artist Jack Whitten believes the future of the world lies in the hands of artists.

As he told Art in America’s Jessica DawsonI see art as the only hope we have left. I don't see it in religion or politics. If we as artists can't take advantage of it, who can?

At the age of 19 Whitten abandoned the South to further his arts education at New York’s Cooper Union.

As he told Robert Storr in a Brooklyn Rail interview “I just couldn’t go on. I believed in Dr. King’s philosophies; but in reality I found out that I didn’t have it in me to continue in this direction. I found it too difficult to turn the other cheek.

Influenced by the abstract expressionists with surrealist overtones, “I was influenced by Gorky as well as Pollock,” Whitten created works around the issues of the day - Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War.

Whilst topical issues remained as his subject matter Whitten developed his abstract painting techniques to the point that his paintings became sculptural collages by turning the paint into mosaic like tiles that he applies to the canvas.

The New York Times’ Holland Cotter wrote about Whitten in 2013 “With a career grazing the 50-year mark, Jack Whitten is still making work that looks like no one else’s, which is saying something, given the flood of abstract painting in New York in the past few years. He invented new forms of abstraction and standards of beauty to match them. Even more to his credit, he’s still restless enough to make every picture a complex one-off formal event. And he’s stayed invested enough in art as an intimate medium to make those events personal.”

The retrospective exhibition Jack Whitten: Five Decades of Painting is currently on show at
inneapolis’ Walker Art Center until the 24th of January.

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