Remembering Jack Whitten

Lydia Dona

Jack Whitten, 9.11.01, 2006. Acrylic and mixed media on canvas, 120 x 240 inches. © Jack Whitten. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth.

Jack Whitten struggled with the uncomfortability of abstract painting, pushing it with his materiality in clarity to intense plasticity.

Scientific models influenced his work—cosmologies and topologies were a way in which he channeled his pictorial spatiality. His humor, elegance, his serious directness, and historical weight of experience all made for a remarkable authenticity. Art and life were one; embodied in the presentation of his paintings were a mindset and feelings structuring the plane. Moving through a variety of styles, plasticity and philosophy of science were always maintained, along with an interesting edge of the spiritually charged.

As artists we always have a perspective of time, towards what we do, even if it is in the moment; however, the moment itself can never be grasped while the painting happens. The majestic scale, the density of information were the true mapping of emotional soulful spaces and mind spaces, with constant desire for realities to be integrated. In my interview with Phong Bui in 2008, I said that 30 years from now Jack’s work will remain beyond its moment, in the context of the painting 9.11.01 (2006) exhibited at PS1. This was the work in which I understood him the best, through an emotionally loaded field created without nostalgia or sentimentality, commonality without the game of melancholy, and authority without arrogance. The pyramid, the text, the colors, the black and white fusion into brown matter, the density and scale gave me the understanding of how painful content can remain in a painting without leaking into non-thinking modes.

It has retained all its plasticity and existentiality, yet remains timely. Jack’s work and Jack himself grasped a rare power of the authentic. He remains, as always, a legacy of a grand and matter-of-fact artist.


Lydia Dona

February 2018


Lydia Dona