20. Stanley Whiteny

Stanley Whitney is an American abstract painter known for his expressive interpretations of grids. This work serves as an emblematic painting across his oeuvre due to its bright color palette, the square shape, its individual components, and of course, the reference to a grid. The artists’ titles often evoke literary references, and he cites prose, dance, and specifically jazz music as influential to the creation of his works.

Raised in Philadelphia, Whitney has lived in New York since 1968. Today, he splits his time between New York and Parma, Italy. A solo exhibition of Whitney’s work entitled “Dance the Orange” was held at the Studio Museum in Harlem in 2015. The exhibition was widely celebrated by critics and marked the artist’s first solo presentation in New York. As an African American artist, slow reception of Whitney’s paintings in New York may be the product of the assumption that African American artists should make art about identity and societal conditions. In an interview published in Vogue Magazine, on July 20, 2015, the artist stated:

“I came to abstraction because it allowed so much freedom in the work. I liked landscape painting, I liked figure painting, I liked all these different things about painting. The abstract allowed me to take bits and pieces of everything. If I go look at Velásquez and think about that, Goya, I can take a little bit of this and that. A lot of paintings in one canvas. Abstraction allowed me that. And I wasn’t a storyteller. I read a lot. I wish I were a storyteller. But I’m not. I found if I told a story I wanted to tell more than one. I wanted the freedom and openness to incorporate anything I wanted in a painting.”

Other African American painters working with the language of abstraction in the Alfond Collection of Contemporary Art are Jack Whitten, Melvin Edwards, and McArthur Binion.