July 20, 2018 - Hauser & Wirth Publishers - Jack Whitten: Notes from the Woodshed
July 20, 2018

Hauser & Wirth Publishers

Photo: Ed Park.

Jack Whitten: Notes from the Woodshed
New release

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Widely celebrated for his experimental approach to painting, Jack Whitten often turned to writing as a way to investigate, understand, and grapple with his practice and his milieu. Notes from the Woodshed is the first publication devoted to Whitten’s writings and takes its name from the heading Whitten scrawled across many of his texts in tribute to the practice of jazz musicians rehearsing in solitude, reveling in the liberty of experimenting in private. Through his writings, Whitten tells a story of artistic mastery through experiment, and also of the way to make a rich, deep, expansive life as an artist, ultimately proving himself as one of the great artist-writers of our time.

Whitten’s reflections span the course of his six-decade career, from 1962–2017, and take various forms—from meticulous daily logs, to developed longer essays, published statements, and public talks. Together, these texts shed light on the conceptual undercurrents that shaped Whitten’s singularly nuanced language of painting, which hovers between gestural abstraction and process art.

Notes from the Woodshed is presented  in conjunction with the exhibition Jack Whitten. Self Portrait With Satellites at Hauser & Wirth Los Angeles, and Odyssey: Jack Whitten Sculpture, 1963–2017 at the Baltimore Museum of Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It is edited by Katy Siegel, BMA Senior Programming and Research Curator and Thaw Chair in Modern American Art at Stony Brook University, who has also contributed a foreword to the texts. Designed by Rita Jules and Miko McGinty, the publication is extensively illustrated with facsimiles of Whitten’s logs.  

About the Artist
​Born in Bessemer AL, in 1939, Jack Whitten was an active participant in the Civil Rights Movement before moving north to New York City in the early 1960s and enrolling at Cooper Union. He mingled downtown with the Abstract Expressionists, absorbing the influence of Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko, Franz Kline, and Philip Guston, while engaging uptown with Norman Lewis and Romare Bearden. But Whitten would soon prioritize his own distinctly experimental vision, engineering breakthrough after breakthrough with techniques and materials, articulating new pathways between artworks and their inspirations. At times he pursued quickly applied gestural techniques akin to photography or printmaking. At other times, the deliberative and constructive hand is evident. From his series of small Ghost canvases of the 1960s and subsequent pulled "Slabs" and dragged canvases of the 1970s, Whitten moved on to collaged acrylic "Skins" of the 1980s, and eventually to his more recent tessellated constructions—paintings that look like mosaics but are actually composed of dried-acrylic paint chips as tesserae unevenly set in wet paint.  

The common denominators across the many phases of Whitten’s artistic practice—which he describes as "conceptual"—are the avidity of his technical explorations and his mastery of abstraction’s potential to map geographic, social, and psychological locations, particularly within the African-American experience. Recalling his time as a pre-medical student at Tuskegee Institute (today Tuskegee University) in the 1950s, he once said, "[It was] an all-black college where the African-American scientist George Washington Carver did all his experiments. His laboratory is still intact. He was also a painter. I’m convinced today that a lot of my attitudes toward painting and making, and experimentation came from George Washington Carver. He made his own pigments, his own paints, from his inventions with peanuts. The obsession with invention and discovery impressed me."

About Hauser & Wirth Publishers
Since its founding in 1992, Hauser & Wirth Publishers has been devoted to the presentation of unique, object-like books and a rich exchange of ideas between artists and scholars. With a backlist comprising monographs, artists’ books, exhibition catalogues, and collections of artists’ writings, Hauser & Wirth Publishers plays a central role in the gallery’s identity and program. Each publication seeks to encourage understanding about contemporary art, promoting discourse and appreciation by bringing new, sometimes overlooked, aspects of an artist’s creative practice into focus.

Hauser & Wirth Publishers commissions original, in-depth essays and texts, and collaborates with esteemed book designers to realize each creative vision. With rigorous scholarship, extensive illustrations, and thoughtful craftsmanship that emphasizes the essence of an object, Hauser & Wirth Publishers’ books serve as universally accessible, long-term records of exhibitions and artists’ work.

Hauser & Wirth Publishers
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