For over 50 years, Jack Whitten explored the possibilities of material, process, and technique in his innovative studio practice. Drawing was an important and integral part of Whitten’s artistic and technical maturation; he was a prolific and powerful draughtsman who was committed to drawing to express his ideas. Through drawing, Whitten constructed a bridge between gestural abstraction and process art, constantly working toward a nuanced language of mark making that employs deeply personal expression. “Drawing is an act of brave exploration into unknown territories,” Whitten said in his seminal 1993 essay, Working on Paper. “I investigate everything and anything through the act of drawing.”
In the 1970s, Whitten experimented with new techniques and non-traditional tools for drawing and painting. Moving away from gestural mark-making allowed Whitten to update his visual vocabulary and manipulate planes and spaces.
Born on December 5, 1939 in Bessemer, AL, the artist grew up amidst the segregation of the South and became a participant in the Civil Rights Movement while studying at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. Leaving the South for good, the artist moved to New York where he studied at the Cooper Union School of Art during the early 1960s. In New York, Whitten became deeply influenced by the Jazz music of John Coltrane as well as the paintings of Jacob Lawrence. Largely working without much public attention over the following decades, in 2014 the travelling retrospective “Jack Whitten: Five Decades of Painting” opened at the Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego to critical acclaim. The artist died on January 20, 2018 in Queens, NY. Today, his works are held in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, The Museum of Modern Art in New York, and the Cleveland Museum of Art, among others.