Jack Whitten: Cosmic Soul

Jack Whitten: Cosmic Soul

To be released on 13 October 2022 on the occasion of Hauser & Wirth Publishers’ participation in Printed Matter’s New York Art Book Fair. This comprehensive monograph, authored by art historian Richard Shiff, offers a multifaceted and critical interpretation of Jack Whitten’s art-making and philosophy of life.

Jack Whitten, Clearview Il (detail), 1970
Cover: Jack Whitten, Clearview Il (detail), 1970

Informed both by Whitten’s extensive writings and his personal conversations with the author, ‘Cosmic Soul’ offers a close reading of the artist’s outlook. Vividly illustrated and ranging freely through the course of the artist’s remarkable six-decade career, Shiff’s text illuminates the distinctive character of Whitten’s thought and the art it generated.

Jack Whitten, 2014. Courtesy Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Elfie Semotan
Jack Whitten, 2014. Courtesy Hauser & Wirth.
Photo: Elfie Semotan

Richard Shiff sheds new light on the artist’s approach to different materials, ranging from paint on canvas and sculpted wood to his groundbreaking use of the ‘digital’ acrylic ‘tesserae’ he began working with in the 1990s. Illustrating more than 125 artworks by Whitten, ‘Cosmic Soul’ develops over four chapters, three of which (now expanded) were originally commissioned as essays for exhibitions, providing a thorough survey of Whitten’s artistic voice as it manifested itself across mediums.

Jack Whitten. Iuiu Bundle #4. 2014
Jack Whitten. JuJu Bundle #4. 2014 ©The Estate or Jack Whitten.
Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth

Born in Bessemer, Alabama in 1939, Jack Whitten is celebrated for his innovative processes of applying paint to the surface of his canvases and transfiguring their material terrains.

Although Whitten initially aligned with the New York circle of abstract expressionists active in the 1960s, his work gradually distanced itself from the movement’s aesthetic philosophy and formal concerns, focusing more intensely on the experimental aspects of process and technique that came to define his practice. His new methods derived initially from his meditations on photographic and digital technologies, and later from his investigations into quantum theory.

Jack Whitten, The Predominance of Tan, Black, and Blue: The Duke of Ellington's Centennial Celebration, 1999.
Jack Whitten, The Predominance of Tan, Black, and Blue: The Duke of Ellington’s Centennial Celebration, 1999. © The Estate of Jack Whitten. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Jeff McLane

In the 1970s, Whitten’s experiments with the materiality of paint reached a climax: removing a thick slab of acrylic paint from its support, Whitten discovered that the medium could be coaxed into the form of an independent object.

Whitten used this new mode of painting to challenge pre-existing notions of the medium’s dimension-ality, applying slices of acrylic ribbon to achieve a multi-dimensional play of light, similar to that generated by mosaic tessarae. Over the course of a six-decade career, Whitten’s work bridged rhythms of gestural abstraction and process art, arriving at a nuanced language of painting that hovers between mechanical automation and intensely personal expression.

This publication is released on the occasion of Printed Matter’s New York Art Book Fair (13 – 16 October 2022) and coincides with the exhibition ‘Jack Whitten’ at Dia Beacon, New York (18 November 2022 – 10 July 2023)

Jack Whitten: Cosmic Soul
Release date: 13 October 2022
Edited by Richard Shiff
Book design by Rita Jules, Miko McGinty Inc.
English, Swiss-bound softcover
360 pages, 192 x 255 mm
£42 / $45 / €42 / CHF 44 / HKD 375

©2022 Jack Whitten, Hauser & Wirth Publishers, Jeff McLane, Elfie Semotan