JACK WHITTEN (1939-2018)
JACK WHITTEN (1939-2018)
JACK WHITTEN (1939-2018)
3 More
JACK WHITTEN (1939-2018)
6 More
Property from a Prominent American Collection
JACK WHITTEN (1939-2018)

The Eleventh Loop (Dedicated To The Memory Of Adrienne Rich)

JACK WHITTEN (1939-2018)
The Eleventh Loop (Dedicated To The Memory Of Adrienne Rich)
titled and dated '"THE ELEVENTH LOOP © 2012 (DEDICATED TO THE MEMORY OF ADRIENNE RICH)"' (on the reverse of the right panel); signed 'Jack Whitten' (on the reverse of the left panel)
acrylic on canvas, in two parts
48 x 120 in. (121.9 x 304.8 cm.)
Executed in 2012.
Estate of the artist
Hauser & Wirth, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner

Brought to you by

Ana Maria Celis
Ana Maria Celis Head of Department

Lot Essay

“…But a life doesn’t unfold that way it moves in loops by switchbacks loosely strung around the swelling of one hillside toward another one island toward another…”
Adrienne Rich, excerpt from Three: origins

Noted for his groundbreaking approach to painting as well as his promotion of underserved voices, Jack Whitten’s shimmering abstractions evoke Byzantine mosaics and the glinting tilework of subway stations in equal measure. Dedicated to the feminist poet and essayist Adrienne Cecile Rich, The Eleventh Loop is one of several masterworks by Whitten that bring light to visionaries important to the painter. Known for her championing of women and lesbian voices within the realm of poetry, and for bringing light to these oppressed viewpoints, Rich passed away in 2012. Whitten completed The Eleventh Loop sometime after this in the same year and named it parenthetically in honor of the poet. Interested in infusing his work with the vigor and energy of daily life, Whitten noted, “…for me abstraction is essence. What we do in abstraction is we take the whole of life and we distill it” (J. Whitten, in “Jack Whitten with Jarrett Earnest,” The Brooklyn Rail, February 2017). Extracting the most vital parts of a lived experience and translating them into color and form, Whitten muses on memories of events, places, and in the case of The Eleventh Loop, people, as he places each tile of paint.

“[…]For me abstraction is essence. What we do in abstraction is we take the whole of life and we distill it.”–Jack Whitten

Constructed from a whirl of curvilinear sweeps of iridescent tones, The Eleventh Loop radiates out from a white line that extends from the upper left side of the composition and then retreats into the lower edge of that same side. Like ripples, the lines of color emanate from this winding core and cascade toward the outer reaches of the support. Gold, opal green, rich blue, and ruby pink alternate in waves and create a visually vibrant image that pulls the viewer’s gaze inward.

Referencing the history of mosaic and its spiritual connotations in many cultures, Whitten notes, “…the technique I’m using in these paintings goes back to ancient mosaics, what we call direct method. The direct method used pieces of stone, marble, precious metal or glass…and the thumb of the master would set it in such a way that it would hit to govern light and reflect light….It was built to put you in the presence of God” (Ibid.). By approaching his paintings in a more sculptural mode, Whitten is able to build the works piece by piece rather than paint them layer after layer. Using acrylic paint, the artist first sets down a layer that he subsequently lifts off of its original support and cuts into strips. These strips are then sliced into tile-like components that are then laid onto a backdrop of wet media much like ancient mosaic artists arranged tile and glass in wet mortar and plaster.

“…all of my memorial paintings are gifts to the people that inspired them… they are not mere dedications… they are gifts.” –Jack Whitten

Whitten first began working in the style exhibited in the present example in the 1980s. Experimenting with how to extend the abstract gesture beyond just the traversal of paint from brush to canvas, he started treating the paint as a sculptural object or a building block. In an interview about his evolving practice in the 80s and 90s, he noted, “I’m dealing now with paint as a collage, paint as sculpture. I have changed the verb ‘to paint’: I don’t paint a painting, I make a painting. So the verb has changed. And in doing that, I’ve broken through a lot of illusionistic qualities” (J. Whitten, quoted in K. Goldsmith, “Jack Whitten by Kenneth Goldsmith,” BOMB, July 1, 1994). Forcing himself to consider the initial exploratory movement and to then reassess and rebuild it as the final work took place, Whitten broke through any inborn representational urges and got the heart of his practice.

Beyond any external pretense that may come across in critique of his work, Whitten is straightforward about his drive. Coming of age in the mid-twentieth century, when the art world had started to morph and change, he was influenced early on by the extant works of the early Abstract Expressionists. Moving to New York in 1959, his work was forever influenced by the conversations and ideas percolating in that artistic incubator. He is insistent that the primal core of painting lies in the materials. The groundwork is laid by the elemental basics. “Every painter, whether they’re abstract or figurative, has to discover that the only light they’ve got is color. I don’t care about all the other stuff that people attach to it – the politics, the social issues – O.K. In terms of contemporary thought and the world we live in, I won’t say that’s not important. But ultimately, it’s what’s in that tube of paint that matters” (J. Whitten, The Brooklyn Rail, op. cit.). From this decidedly nonchalant attitude comes a more direct approach to a style that is anything but simple. The incredible dexterity and meticulous detail exhibited in works like The Eleventh Loop points to an artist with a strong commitment to personal style and an ever-growing exploration of the artform.

“…for me abstraction is essence. What we do in abstraction is we take the whole of life and we distill it”(J. Whitten, in “Jack Whitten with Jarrett Earnest,” The Brooklyn Rail, February 2017).

More from 21st Century Evening Sale

View All
View All