Page from Sketchbook, 2017
Graphite and watercolor on paper
Pursuing abstraction since the 1970s, Whitney established his mature style in the 1990s while living and working in Rome. The compositional framework he employs allows him the freedom to improvise, facilitating the emergence of surprising chromatic harmonies and dynamic visual rhythms. The artist’s wide-ranging influences include the polyphonic call and response of jazz, the transformative effect of light cast on historic buildings, the traditions of American quiltmaking, and artists from Henri Matisse and Piet Mondrian to Giorgio Morandi.
Whitney’s recent residency in Paris offered him the sustained opportunity to observe the city’s architecture and urban fabric, and to connect with its expansive cultural history. As he observes:
There’s a history of African Americans going to Paris that dates back to after the First World War. Jazz musicians, writers, and artists like Beauford Delaney, James Baldwin, and more recently, Ed Clark, went to Paris for a creative freedom they couldn’t find in the United States. I’ve always wanted to spend more time in Paris, and in 2023, I finally did so. It was incredible to be in the city where so many of the great artists of the twentieth century, artists who were integral to my development as a painter, had lived and worked. In Paris, there’s a play between different periods in a long history; you just don’t have that in the States.