Jack Whitten

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Jack Whitten
Born 1939
Nationality American
Known for Abstract painting
Awards National Medal of Arts

Jack Whitten (born 1939) is an American abstract painter. In 2016, he was awarded a National Medal of Arts.[1]


Whitten was born in Bessemer, Alabama, the son of a seamstress, twice widowed. His father, a coal-miner, died while Whitten was a child. Planning a career as an army doctor, Whitten entered pre-medical studies at Tuskegee Institute where he took some pilot training and became inspired by George Washington Carver's legacy as a scientist, inventor and artist. He also traveled to nearby Montgomery, Alabama to hear Martin Luther King, Jr speak during the Montgomery Bus Boycott and was deeply moved by his vision for a changed America.

Whitten went to Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana to begin studying art and became involved in Civil Rights demonstrations there. Angered by the violent resistance to change he experienced he moved to New York City in 1960. He enrolled immediately at the Cooper Union, graduating with a bachelor's degree in fine art in 1964. Afterwards he remained in New York as a working artist, heavily influenced by the abstract expressionists then dominating the art community.

Whitten's work was featured in the Annual Exhibition of Contemporary American Painting at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1972. The Whitney mounted a solo exhibition of his paintings in 1974. He has also had individual shows at numerous private galleries and universities, including a 10-year retrospective in 1983 at the Studio Museum in Harlem and an exhibition of memorial paintings in 2008 at the Atlanta Contemporary Arts Center in Atlanta, Georgia.

Throughout his career, Whitten has concerned himself with the techniques and materials of painting and the relationship of artworks to their inspirations. At times he has pursued quickly-applied gestural techniques akin to photography or printmaking. At other times the deliberative and constructive hand is evident. The New York Times labeled him the father of a "new abstraction".

When the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center occurred, Whitten was at his studio on Lispenard Street in Tribeca watching the first plane hit. He spent two years constructing a monumental elegiac and emotion-filled panel, with ashes embedded into it, as a memorial of the day.

In 2014, a retrospective exhibition was organized by The Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego.[2] The exhibition traveled to the Wexner Center for the Arts in 2015[3] and will travel to the Walker Art Museum in 2015 and 2016.[4]

Whitten is represented by Hauser & Wirth and Zeno X gallery in Antwerp, Belgium.

Whitten and his wife, Mary reside in Queens, New York. He also owns a vacation home in Crete.



  • Goldsmith, Kenneth (Summer 1994) "Jack Whitten" Bomb Magazine.
  • Storr, Rober (September 2007) "Jack Whitten with Robert Storr" Brooklyn Rail
  • Ostrove, Saul (April 2008) "Process, Image and Elegy" Art in America.
  • Fox, Catherine (April 26, 2008) "Close to history: Alabama-born artist who boarded a bus to New York in 1960 makes a triumphant return to the South." Atlanta Journal-Constitution
  • Moyer, Carrie (October 2009) "Jack Whitten" The Brooklyn Rail
  • Jack Whitten at the MoMa PS1(May 24—October 15, 2007) "[1]
  • Press Release Zeno X Gallery (Antwerp) Solo Exhibition 2012 "[2]"

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