Wednesday, December 17, 2014

African American Painter Jack Whitten - Retrospective : Five Decades of Painting, MOCA La Jolla

Jack Whitten: Five Decades of Painting
Museum of Contemporary Art, La Jolla
Article by Cathy Breslaw

Dead Reckoning 1  acrylic on canvas    84" x 84"   1980
Artist Jack Whitten has dedicated the last fifty years to making paintings. The work of this African American artist from the south, is a huge exhibition referencing art history, Jazz music, politics, race and cosmology. This retrospective is beautifully curated by Kathryn Kanjo, and Whitten's passion for painting is eminently clear as the viewer moves from room to room.  Whitten, who now lives an works in New York City,  came into his own as a painter during the early 60’s - he met and spent time with Martin Luther King, musician Miles Davis, and artists William de Kooning, Franz Kline, Philip Guston and others. Titles to his works are tip off to what he was thinking about: “Head IV Lynching”, “The Blacks”, “NY Battleground”, “Martin Luther King’s Garden”, “Mask of God(for Joseph Campbell)”, “Homecoming: For Miles”,”Apps for Obama”. Whitten continues to use his broad based experiments with paint to express his philosophies about history and culture, and his concepts of space and personal identity. His black and white paintings of the 60’s are minimal, lending an out-of-focus photographic quality to seemingly “ghost imagery”.  The 70’s paintings consist of  thick layered paint surfaces that have been raked, trowelled and leveled like concrete, of varying color combinations but are clearly experiments in the viscosity, material and substance of paint. Whitten’s paintings from the 80’s appear to be explorations with the composition of paint and casting, creating new surfaces and textures. Whitten’s works from the 90’s and 2000’s are primarily tessellated paintings resembling ancient mosaics and seem to be influenced by the significant time Whitten spends in Greece. He developed a way of creating slabs of multicolored acrylics  cut into small rectangles as well as castings of acrylic to form large paintings. The most recent two works in the show from 2014, appear to be a conglomeration of his techniques developed over the years, and express a sense of the spiritual and bear relationship to cosmology. Named “Black Monolith, V Full Circle: For LeRoi Jones A.K.A. Baraka” and “Self Portrait 1”, these two paintings are powerful and intense, and begs the question “what will we see
next from this prolific painter?”
Apps for Obama     acrylic on hollow core door   84" x 91"    2011

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