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Lecture: Jack Whitten

Rescheduled: Sunday, January 26 | 2PM

Join CAMH for a lecture by artist Jack Whitten, who will discuss his current body of work and some of the social histories that inform his practice. Throughout his almost fifty-year career, Whitten has utilized various artistic techniques in his paintings, including sculpture and mosaic, to convey his artistic interpretations and representations of contemporary culture. New York Times critic Holland Cotter said of Whitten’s recent gallery show: “Jack Whitten is still making work that looks like no one else’s…” Whitten’s process-driven abstract painting work is on view in Black in the Abstract: Hard Edges/Soft Curves, which is part of CAMH’s 65th anniversary exhibition Outside the Lines.

About the artist

Jack Whitten (b.1939) began his earliest experiments in painting during the 1960's by creating dynamic works inspired by Abstract Expressionism. Born and raised in Bessemer, Alabama, he moved to New York City in 1960 to attend The Cooper Union. Noted for raucous colors and density of gesture combined with topical content, his artwork of this period manifests 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 1970's; 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 dragged across the canvas with tools including squeegees, rakes, and Afro combs. This process yields palpable surface texture, line, and void.

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 African-American artists during this period, Whitten’s artworks reintroduce gesture with aspects of sculpture and collage.

Since the 1990s, Whitten’s experiments with paint as a medium have progressed further towards sculpture, beginning with transforming paint compounds into tiles, and applying them to the canvas as mosaics. These artworks allude to ancient architecture and murals, and serve as both an homage to and memorial of celebrated public figures and intimate friends. Recently, Whitten has repurposed the gamut of techniques he developed over the decades to deepen his engagement with art history, re-contextualizing his experimentations to achieve innovative new surfaces, structures, and symbols.


images + video:

Jack Whitten. Courtesy Alexander Gray Associates, New York. Jack Whitten, "Pink Psyche Queen" 1973. Acrylic on canvas. Jack Whitten, "Sorcerer's Apprentice" 1974. Acrylic on canvas. Jack Whitten, "DNA II" 1979. Acrylic on canvas. 42 x 42 inches. Jack Whitten, "Black Monolith IV For Jacob Lawrence" 2001. Acrylic on canvas. Jack Whitten, "Warped Circle (For Alan Shields)" 2013. Acrylic on canvas. Jack Whitten, "Crushed Grid" 2013. Acrylic on canvas. 63 x 103 inches. Jack Whitten, "Transmission 'F' #1" 2013. Toner on paper. 22 x 30 inches.
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