As with all the best of Whitten’s works, beyond the tactile and physical dimension of his practice, Flat Plate Monoprint #3 has a wider frame of reference. These works represent the artist’s movement away from Abstract Expressionism and what Whitten described as the “unwanted baggage” of colour (Jack Whitten, unpublished artist’s statement, cited in: Tanya Barson, “Jack Whitten: Epsilon Group II”, Tate, October 2012, online). Like the Greek Alphabet paintings, the present work has a political dimension, and one that can be tied to contemporary music of the 1970s. Speaking of a meeting with John Coltrane in the mid-‘60s, Whitten said that he admired him for thinking of sound as emerging in “sheets”, and shortly before the execution of the present work Whitten made a final series of colourful paintings which saw him pull swathes of roughly mixed colour across the surface of the canvas in a fashion analogous to Gerhard Richter’s abstract works, which the German master commenced a decade later (Jack Whitten cited in: op. cit. p. 373). He thought of this series as a tactile manifestation of Coltrane’s sheets of sound. Following the jazz analogy, Tanya Barson points out with regard to one of the Greek Alphabet paintings that “the seemingly arbitrary diagonal ‘interruptions’ across the canvas… might be likened to the improvisations that characterise ‘bebop’ and ‘free jazz’”, and there can be no doubt that the association of jazz music also applies the lines cutting through to the present work in every direction (Barson, op. cit.).
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