Whitney’s paintings at this point seem to embody the transitory.
My admiration for Stanely Whitney’s resoluteness has increased over the years, as well as my sense of his growing authority as a masterful colorist.
By rejecting monochrome and the grid’s guarantee of homogeneity, Stanley Whitney has transformed aspects of Minimalism and Color Field painting into something all his own.
Each of these exhibitions showed me something I had not seen before.
Whitney’s drawings cite influences from Harlem Renaissance literature to bebop.
Best known for arranging blocks of thrumming color into large rectangular canvases, Whitney’s major achievement has been to spark a slow burn of surprises, within the least esoteric medium around, large-scale oil painting.
Happily, for those who are curious about what came next in Whitney’s evolution, they need only to go uptown and see the artist’s first museum exhibition in New York, Stanley Whitney: Dance the Orange at the Studio Museum in Harlem, which contains a selection of twenty-nine paintings and works on paper the artist made between 2008 and 2015.
Years ago I saw a drawing in a modest exhibition at the Centre Pompidou that Picasso made on a sheet of stiff cardboard while he was on a picnic with his friends, Michel and Louise Leiris. Not one to waste space, Picasso divided the surface into a grid, and in each small square he made a quick contour drawing of his longtime friends.
For his solo show at Pace Gallery in 2010, Thomas Nozkowski made the decision to hang his work in pairs, with an oil painting on canvas board or panel alongside a related work on paper, setting up a contrast between density and light, slow and fast, rumination and riff. This comparison came to mind repeatedly while wandering through Paintings on Paper, the effervescent summer exhibition at David Zwirner.
Color is frightening. From the color of one’s skin to the color of a painting, it can stir up unlikely obsessions: all kinds of irrational responses tend to explode without provocation. Barnett Newman and Mark Rothko have two things in common: wide expanses of color and the proclivity for people to deface their paintings more than any other Abstract Expressionist work.
Stanley Whitney is in his mid-sixties. By his own account, he struggled in the studio from the early 70s to the late 80s, “just trying to make work.” The issue was to make something that was his, rather than to make something that was the right or approved of thing to do. Although it is seldom discussed publicly, this is the dilemma facing every African-American artist. You must be a spokesperson who produces testimony that can be regarded as representative of Black culture — the “I” speaking for the “we.” (Even after the death of the author, it seems that there is at least one “we” that must be spoken for in this postmodern world.)