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Collection Reflection: Jack Whitten

7 October 2020 3:00 pm
An abstract composition rendered in finely grained greyscale with pigment streaking horizontally across the page from left to right. In the centre is an outline of a horizontal oblong shape intersected by a wire or string.

Jack Whitten  , United States of America, 1939-2018 , Topographical Space 6 1974.  Dry pigment on paper. 

Presented by Art Fund under Art Fund International, 2010. 


This grainy, greyscale image evokes satellite or radar imagery of landscape from above, or flickering screen of surveillance footage. It was created during Jack Whitten’s artist residency at the Xerox Corporation in 1974 where he experimented with their printing technologies. 

This residency marked a key moment in Whitten’s practice. During the 1960s he was involved with Abstract Expressionism in New York, exploring bold colour and gesture, but during the 1970s pared back his work to push boundaries around the materials and processes of painting.  

He sought to remove traces of the artist’s hand by ‘automating’ his painting, influenced by photo processing and screenprinting technologies. Throughout his career Whitten constructed custom tools to rake or drag pigment across paper and canvasHere he experiments with photocopier tonera dry pigment that responds to electrostatic charges and is set with heat. Whitten used a flat scraper pull it across the page, capturing ghostly outlines of objects he laid underneath.  

Whitten was involved in civil rights demonstrations in the USA during the 1960s and outspoken about his politics, but avoided translating this literally in his art. Instead he embedded politics into material and form, focusing on the transformative potential of aesthetics to change perceptions and construct new realities.  

Words: Olivia Heron, Assistant Curator 

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