For his first exhibition in London, Stanley Whitney presents a series of oil paintings and gouache on paper works made over the last few months in response to global events, literature and music, among other sources of inspiration. One of the American artist’s new works, Radical Times, lends its name to the exhibition, suggesting both a portentous moment in history and the potential for political or social upheaval. Deep Water was painted in the wake of witnessing migrants arriving in Greece from a war-torn Middle East, while titles such as Wandering and Wondering, Nightlife and Dreamtime (all works 2016) point to moments of leisure, reflection and rest amid the chaotic nature of the world.
Whitney’s unique ordering system revolves around his use of a loosely painted grid, which he has experimented with in various ways over the course of almost three decades. Within this abstract structure, made up of coloured blocks and lines usually in three or more stacks, Whitney sets colours against one another to evoke harmonious or contrasting relationships. The differing transitions and boundaries between these coloured elements allows Whitney to play endlessly with an infinite number of possible configurations, while the relative density, transparency and blurring of his rectangular shapes can also make or break the final composition of each work. He refers to this process of painterly tessellation as a form of continuous refinement akin to an athlete training to stay in shape – perhaps the truest definition of an artistic ‘practice’.
There are strong connections to music in Whitney’s work, from the performative ‘dance’ he enacts when working on each canvas, to the “call and response” technique that governs his decisions over neighbouring colours, mimicking the musical pattern of the same name. Examples of jazz and African music are often cited by Whitney as sources for his polyrhythmatic, near-synaesthetic, all-over fields of paint, yet he is also indelibly tied to the history of painting and quotes as readily from Cézanne or Veronese as from Charlie Parker or Ornette Coleman.
Text: Lisson Gallery