Object Image

In the early 1960s, as a young student in New York, Jack Whitten established ties with an older generation of black artists that included Romare Bearden and Jacob Lawrence, as well as with leading Abstract Expressionists such as Willem de Kooning, Ad Reinhardt, and Franz Kline. During the second half of the decade, Whitten began working toward an entirely unique relationship to painting that he described in this way: “About 1965 I wrote on my studio wall one day, the image is photographic; I must photograph my thoughts.” By 1970 the artist had eliminated both expressive color and figuration from his work, launching a ten-year series of paintings that capture, like a camera, the often chance-based immediacies of his dynamic studio process.

Khee II exhibits all the hallmarks of Whitten’s mature process-derived paintings. As with other works from this period, the artist placed a variety of flat, shaped objects beneath the canvas. After preparing the surface with gesso, he layered it with thin sheets of colored Japanese rice paper. The rice paper dissolved, leaving behind pure pigment. Whitten then pulled a rake or other notched tool—which he calls a “developer,” in obvious reference to a photographer’s chemicals—across the work’s surface. This served both to impress the shapes from below, effectively embossing the canvas, and to disperse color on top of it. The result is a series of ghostlike images and alternating rows of color that vibrate with subtle luminosity. This is a glowing evocative abstract painting that is also a layer-by-layer document of its own making.

Credit: Contemporary Art Discretionary Fund; through prior restricted gift of Mr. and Mrs. Solomon B. Smith; through prior gift of Michael Abrams; Mr. and Mrs. Frank G. Logan Purchase Prize Fund; restricted gift of Denise Gardner; Max V. Kohnstam, N. W. Harris, William H. Bartles, and Laura Slobe Memorial purchase prize funds

Acrylic on canvas
182.9 x 213.4cm
Image © 1978 Jack Whitten., 2019

Text courtesy of Art Institute of Chicago, 2019

Where you'll find this

Art Institute of Chicago
Permanent collection