Jack Whitten: Evolver is one of a series of exhibitions mounted in connection with The Aldrich’s 50th Anniversary that presents the recent work of artists who played a significant role during the first decade of the Museum’s history. Jack Whitten’s career began in the mid-1960s, but it was in 1970 that he first produced work that established the true direction his painting would take over the ensuing forty-three years. Evolver focuses on works Whitten created in the past sixteen months—a remarkably productive period—but also includes as a touchstone Shadows, a 1971 painting that was in the collection of Larry Aldrich, the Museum’s founder. Like a dark mirror, Shadows portends Whitten’s future evolution while also looking back at history, a condition that has characterized the artist’s endeavors to the present day.
Whitten’s formative influence was Abstract Expressionism, but he came of age in the 1960s, with the social, political, and aesthetic upheaval of the era helping forge a unique perspective that continues to inform the artist’s work. The subject matter of Whitten’s painting oscillates between the universal and personal, with references to a spectrum of influences, including philosophy, civil rights, history (particularly of the ancient Mediterranean world) and individuals–both friends and historical figures–who have had an impact on the artist’s life. Whitten’s work exhibits a profound degree of knowledge about technical developments in the chemistry of paint and pigments and the materiality of paint. This knowledge, however, was gained through the act of painting, not from outside sources. As much as Whitten’s work comes out of Abstract Expressionism, his process is quite different, reflecting an approach that mixes intuition, philosophical inquiry, and quasi-scientific experimentation in equal measure.
“Painting is a reproduction of a mental pattern,” the artist has stated. “I have to see the painting before I start.” Whitten, working in this manner, is tapping into the deepest patterns of psychic functioning, a position that echoes certain precepts in archetypal psychology. In trying to locate the “soul” of a new painting, Whitten is thinking of soul in terms of perspective: a reflective viewpoint towards the world, rather than a disembodied spirit or substance. This fluid and open attitude has allowed the artist’s work to evolve in brilliant and always unpredictable ways.
Richard Klein, Exhibitions Director.
Jack Whitten: Evolver is supported, in part, by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.