I only came across Stanley Whitney‘s paintings relatively recently and i’m overwhelmed by them; colours, their juxtaposition to each other, Whitney’s process of creating ‘density with a lot of air’ – colourful squares, placed in a roughly hewn grid, balancing form to create rhythm, speed and nervous energy.
I was interested to read that Whitney arrived at his style of colour building after visiting Rome and Egypt, after studying the architecture of Rome and the pryamids at Giza. It was in Italy and Egypt that the marriage of architecture, colour and density of light made perfect sense to him. He says it much better:
I knew how to draw, so I was drawing a lot. And I was teaching at Tyler in Rome. Now at this point I was really working with the kind of structural work I do now, but they were much looser. I was painting a lot of bold color into the field, a great deal of it. I knew I should go to Egypt. This was about ’94. And it was in Egypt that I discovered density. That’s what Egypt was about. In Rome, you have all this great architecture. That was the big thing: architecture. But then I went to Egypt—the pyramids and all the tombs. I realized that I could stack all the colors together, and not move the air. I realized in Egypt — it just came to me — that I could get the kind of density I wanted in the work. Egypt was the last key to the puzzle.
His paintings are visually simple yet emotionally complex. Beneath the paint, beneath each block are stories of light and colour, a memory, a recollection of a place Whitney has been too, experienced. It is a painters view of the world. It belongs on a different level. But it’s not all about what you see. There is rhythm in the work, the colours on a beat, all jazzed up, Whitneys African – American heritage making itself heard. Miles Davis’s ‘Bitches Brew’ banging off colour, light creating a geometry that is magical, organic, clear and clean.
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