Jack Whitten

 
 
2014
Acrylic on panel
30 5/16 x 22 5/16 in
Courtesy the artist, Alexander Gray Associates, New York; Zeno X Gallery, Antwerp
This is the first self-portrait Whitten created. This is not a typical self portrait in that thefigure does not look directly like Whitten, but is shaped in the general form of a head. This figure is created by small abstract shapes and is contrasted by a black backdrop. 
By looking at this piece it is not obvious that it is a human-like form. Knowing that it is a self-portrait, however, what do you think Whitten is revealing about himself?
1969
Oil on canvas
105 X 109 in
Courtesy the artist, Alexander Gray Associates, New York; Zeno X Gallery, Antwerp

The piece Satori alludes to the Japanese Buddhist term meaning enlightenment, in Buddhism the state of having siritual knowledge and awareness, which frees the person of the cycle of rebirth. One can reach "satori" after a long period of studying and meditation. Whitten started studying far eastern mysticism and began to read a lot. He felt that his point in his life he was on the right track to something greater than what he had learned up to that point. After painting Satori he had reached a period of enlightenment in which he felt that this painting was a gift from him to the cosmos. It was also a point of transition in his painting styles from being an abstract expressionist artist to working more with hard edge geometry and gestural abstraction. It's also one of the first paintings where he stops painting with oils and begins to use acrylics in order to achieve thicker and heavier surfaces. What aspects of this piece signify an enlightenment for you? 

 

1979
Acrylic on canvas
22 x 22 in
Private Collection, Courtesy Zeno X Gallery, Antwerp

Persian Echo uses a repetitive pattern, almost like a Persian rug. It's possible that the repeating pattern was created by the dragging of an afro pick across the canvas. the comb digs a herringbone pattern into soft rectangles of complementary color, resulting in a chromatic haze that reads as a saturated gray when viewed up close, and as vibrant, individual hues from farther away. Black and white decorative patterns create a moiré-effect, a visual preception that occurs when viewing a set of line or dots that is superimposed on another set of line or dots that differ in size and space, over softer pillows of color, juxtaposing optical tricks and impressionistic abstraction. 

1968
Oil on canvas
Collection of Jeff and Leslie Fischer

Jack Whitten painted Martin Luther King’s Garden the year of King's death and named the piece after a park dedicated to the iconic civil rights activists in Colombia, Missouri. Whitten felt that a garden was fitting for a painting representing a figure who was so inspirational to him. The painting portrays the joyfulness and colors of the park and king's successes, while still reflecting the struggles and confusion of the civil rights era. What do you think this garden might symbolize to Whitten? Can you sense feelings of hope, terror, or balance in the future?  Whitten was inspired by gardens, having a background in them and always having one in his backyard he felt that his was a beautiful them to work with. He was also inspired by the abstract expressionist artist Ashlie Gorky's, and his oil painting titled Garden in Sochi, which was painted in 1943 . He thought that a garden was a beautiful theme for a painting representing a iconic figure that was so inspirational to him. A garden being a metaphor for how Martin Luther King Jr laid the foundation and planted the seed that would grown into the civil rights and equality for all African American. 

 

1980
Acrylic on Canvas
58 x 52 in
Courtesy the artist, Alexander Gray Associates, New York; Zeno X Gallery, Antwerp

In Garden in Bessemer, the viewer sees how Whitten was inspired by gardens while growing up in his home town of -Bessemer, Alabama. The piece does not represent an organic garden but rather an abstract one. Whitten's theme of being inspired by garden and their symbolism remain, though his technique has begun to change. With this painting he is starting to move away from using organic surrealism and begins to experiment with fractal geometry. This was piece was titled after something that inspired Whitten growing up. How does this piece exhibit elements that inspired you growing up?