STANLEY WHITNEY (B.1946)
STANLEY WHITNEY (B.1946)
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This lot has been imported from outside of the UK … Read more
STANLEY WHITNEY (B.1946)

Great Balls of Fire

Details
STANLEY WHITNEY (B.1946)
Great Balls of Fire
signed and dated 'Stanley Whitney 2005' (on the reverse)
oil on linen
72 x 72in. (182.8 x 182.8cm.)
Painted in 2005
Provenance
Esso Gallery, New York.
Private Collection, Rome.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
Literature
G. Jacques, Stanley Whitney, Brescia 2006, p. 64 (illustrated in colour, p. 65).
Exhibited
New York, Esso Gallery, Breathing Sound, 2006.
Special notice

This lot has been imported from outside of the UK for sale and placed under the Temporary Admission regime. Import VAT is payable at 5% on the hammer price. VAT at 20% will be added to the buyer’s premium but will not be shown separately on our invoice.

Brought to you by

Keith Gill
Keith Gill Head of Evening Sale, Head of Department

Lot Essay

Alive with colour and feeling, Great Balls of Fire (2005) is a joyous example of Stanley Whitney’s unique abstract practice. Since arriving at his mature style in the 1980s, Whitney has painted almost exclusively on square-format canvases: at 72” x 72”, Great Balls of Fire represents one of the largest scales on which he works. Its surface is divided into four unequal, horizontal bands, which are each themselves filled with bright banners of colour, and divided by smaller strips the width of the artist’s brush. A far cry from the austere Modernist grid, the freehand, block-like shapes—which Whitney lays down like bricks, working from top to bottom—have an engagingly human presence. Their surfaces range from opaque coats to diaphanous, loosely-painted layers of pigment, and they seem to push against the containing canvas as if hinting at a larger, unseen whole. The vibrant, freewheeling rhythm of Whitney’s works is often reflected in their titles: Great Balls of Fire refers to Jerry Lee Lewis’ rock’n’roll classic of 1958. Its bright colours dance together in counterpoint, syncopation and harmony, with different tones of blue, orange, yellow, red and green arranged using an improvisatory ‘call-and-response’ approach. ‘I can put down a red, which can then call a blue, then that blue might call a yellow,’ Whitney says. ‘Colour can’t be controlled, so I can’t really tell what the painting will end up looking like. I don’t know what the order will be. The colour has to go wherever it needs to go. That’s the exciting part of it, to discover what happens’ (S. Whitney, quoted in S. Tariq, ‘Stanley Whitney’, Glass Magazine, Issue 3, Autumn 2010, p. 187).

Arriving in New York in 1968, Whitney diverged from many of his Colour Field contemporaries, finding inspiration in sources ranging from American quilt-making and free jazz to the Old Masters and the Fauves. His travels in Italy and Egypt during the 1990s brought about an architectonic shift in his practice, with structures such as the Colosseum, the pyramids and the Palazzo Farnese inspiring his use of interlocking geometric blocks: a format that has driven his work ever since. Drawing widely from the world around him, Whitney works in an abstract language free from dogma and theory, guided instead by the natural frictions, accords and resonances between colours and forms. ‘I follow the paintings—the paintings run to the door, through the door, around the corner, and I run after them’, he explains (S. Whitney, quoted in A. D’Souza, ‘“The Colour Makes the Structure”: Stanley Whitney Paints a Picture’, ARTnews, 30 May 2017). The last five years, in particular, have witnessed a renewed surge of interest in Whitney’s work: he mounted a major solo show at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Texas, in 2017, as well as participating in Documenta 14 that year. The fundamental structures of his practice, however—as consistent, complete and coherent as a world-view—remain unchanged. Great Balls of Fire vibrates with the tones and timbres of optical sensation, humming a jubilant song in the key of life.

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