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Home | ArtMakers | Jack Whitten
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Color: Blue
Food: Fish
Quote: Shit Happens.
Season: Summer
Vacation Destination: Crete
Birthplace
Bessemer, Alabama United States
Interview Description:

Biography |

Interview Date: 10/3/2016 |and| 10/27/2016

Painter Jack Whitten was born on December 5, 1939 in Bessemer, Alabama to Annie B. Cross Whitten, a seamstress, and Mose Whitten, a coal miner. He was a premedical student at Tuskegee Institute before leaving the university in 1959. He then studied art at Southern University in Baton Rouge briefly, before moving to New York City and enrolling at The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art in 1960, where he earned his B.F.A. degree.

In New York, Whitten fell under the influence of artists such as Willem de Kooning and Norman Lewis, but he was also greatly influenced by jazz musicians such as John Coltrane and Miles Davis. Whitten had his first group exhibition in 1965 at Allan Stone Gallery in New York, which also hosted his first solo exhibition in 1968. In the latter half of the 1960s, he obtained a position as an art professor at The Cooper Union and School of Visual Arts. Beginning in the 1970s, Whitten broke away from abstract expressionist influences and began to experiment with his innovative painting tools, designed to remove the notion of touch from the act of painting. He created new tools for applying paint to canvas, such as a twelve foot rake that he called the “developer.” In 1974, he had a solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art. In 1983, a solo exhibition at the Studio Museum in Harlem celebrated ten years of his paintings (1970-1980). In the 1980s, he became interested in using paint as collage, which was a metaphor for skin. In the 1990s and the 2000s, he experimented with the casting of acrylic paint from molds and the construction of paintings as mosaics made from acrylic tesserae. His work began to be celebrated in the mainstream more consistently in the 1990s and onward, with an installation in the permanent collection galleries of the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, an exhibition at MoMA PS1 in 2007, and several other major shows and retrospectives in the 2010s, including a fifty year retrospective in 2014. He was represented by Hauser & Wirth and Zeno X Gallery, Antwerp. Whitten showed his artworks in a multitude of solo and group exhibitions over the course of his career. Whitten showed his work at the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego, Savannah College of Art and Design, Zeno X Gallery in Antwerp, Belgium, Art Basel in Switzerland, Walker Art Center, Alexander Gray Associates, and Atlanta Contemporary Art Center.

Whitten was awarded the 2015 National Medal of Arts, John Hay Whitney Fellowship, an Individual Artist’s Fellowship from the National Endowments for the Arts, and the Guggenheim Fellowship. In 2014 he received an Honorary Doctorate from the San Francisco Art Institute. In May 2016, Whitten was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from Brandeis University.

Whitten passed away on January 20, 2018 at age 78.

Jack Whitten was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on October 3, 2016 and October 27, 2016.

Speaker Bureau Notes: