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Jack Whitten

Born 1939. Died 2018.

Works by Jack Whitten at Sotheby's

Jack Whitten Biography

Critically admired for his relentless exploration into the process and materiality of painting, Jack Whitten’s contribution to the medium’s historic development is widely recognized. Born in Alabama in 1939 to a seamstress and a coal-worker, Whitten initially planned to become an army doctor, leading him to enroll at the Tuskegee Institute. During this time, Whitten became inspired by George Washington Carver, a Renaissance man, and consequently transferred to the Southern University in Baton Rouge to study art. Whitten eventually settled in New York City in 1960 where he enrolled at the Cooper Union, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in fine art in 1964.

Whitten’s early years in the segregated South, his subsequent involvement in the Civil Rights movement and the aesthetic influences of the New York Abstract Expressionists, among them Willem de Kooning (a friend and mentor), greatly informed the artist’s oeuvre. Whitten’s works are characterized by their astute attention to process and the material properties of the painted surface. This is evident in Whitten’s diverse experimentations with various pigments and forms of mark-making, from iron oxide and blood to Afro-combs and squeegees. Whitten’s works thus combine complex formal innovations with insightful political critiques.

Although the artist died in 2018, his legacy of pushing painting’s boundaries has translated into several solo museum exhibitions and retrospectives at the world’s most renowned museums including the Museum of Contemporary Art of San Diego, SCAD Savannah College of Art & Design, Moma PS1, The Studio Museum, The Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Atlanta Contemporary Arts Center. Whitten’s works are also present in the prestigious collections of the Museum of Modern Art, The Whitney Museum of American Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Tate London, among many others. Furthermore, the artist was awarded a National Medal of Arts from President Barack Obama in 2016 and was inducted into the National Academy Museum and School in the same year.

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