In Memoriam

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Editor’s Note

Jack Whitten has been a dear friend and mentor to the Rail ever since our journal was founded in October 2000. Jack's resilient spirit, generosity, and compassion have been an inspiration to all of us. Due to Jack’s recent passing, I’ve asked several of his old and new friends including Lydia Dona, Guy Goodwin, Odili Donald Odita, David Reed, Richard Shiff, Ron Gorchov, Stanley Whitney, and myself included, to contribute our reflections and observations on what Jack has meant to our life and work, our contemporary painting culture, and beyond.

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Guy Goodwin

Jack called me his “homeboy,” as we were from Jefferson County, Alabama and about the same age. He came to New York City about ten years before me. By the time we met he was already becoming an established artist to be dealt with.

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Lydia Dona

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.

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Odili Donald Odita

I will always see Jack Whitten as the adventuring and fearless painter, who found himself again and again at the center of new, profound and deeply informed spaces. In so many ways, he was able to find new beginnings in his work, while escaping self-definition in the process.

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David Reed

It’s hard for me now to write about Jack. I feel his loss in a personal way—it’s almost impossible to be aware of anything other than this loss, and the opportunities that I won’t have to see and talk with Jack.

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Richard Shiff

Jack Whitten, approaching 80, died too young. His work was still developing—rapidly, in fact—and he was generating a whirl of new ideas as if he had nothing old to rely on. This was so, because none of Jack’s older art had aged. His old wasn’t old.

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STANLEY WHITNEY
with Phong Bui

Jack knew, no matter what: I’m gonna make great art, I’m going to have a great life. It wasn’t about the New York art world, it wasn’t about money. “I’m gonna have this life no matter what.” And that’s what inspired me—no matter what. Jack as a great painter is inseparable from Jack the courageous human being.

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Ron Gorchov

Jack thought deeply about space and science, like quantum mechanics and missing matter, yet he had a kind of mystical idea about painting. He put those ideas into paint.

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Phong Bui

What else can I say about Jack in addition to being a generous, courageous, and wise person? His inspiring belief in the power of art sustained his stamina throughout the hardship and struggles as an African American person and artist. I, too, am grateful to Jack for paving the way for me to fight against the narrow confines of our popular culture’s perpetual tendency to label those it considers as outsiders of the establishment. Jack has taught all of us: your potential is greater than your given circumstances.

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FEB 2018

All Issues