Stanley Whitney: Care of the Brush

Stanley Whitney: Team Colors is on view at Team (bunglow), Venice, CA from January 11th – February 22, 2015.

Stanley Whitney, Bodyheat, 2012, oil on linen, 96 x 96 inches (courtesy of Team Gallery)

Stanley Whitney: Care of the Brush

There are some artists for whom formalism appears effortless. Their formal rigor, while apparent, dissolves quickly before your eyes into something natural and lifelike. Stanley Whitney is one of these artists. He sets forms in motion and they maneuver themselves into place.

Whitney may work hard in the studio to achieve the ease exuded by these works, but they feel free even when their color and compression suggest dissonance or cacophony. Their abstraction feels familiar rather than distant.

The bold simplicity of Whitney’s paintings is disarming, and they speak to the liveliness that the simple act of painting can invoke. In his paintings, working within given parameters towards a novel resolution feels fresh again and this freshness comes from clarity and the courage to commit to an essential concern - in this case color.

Any painter knows how difficult and how dizzying the world of color can be. Whitney himself recalled seeing “10,000 shades of orange on the street” in India. Limiting the palette is the time-honored method used to reign in the unruliness of color, to subjugate it and task it with reproducing mundane retinal experience; yet Whitney lets color loose and trusts it will organize under the care of the brush. “In a Manet,” he has said, “I might look at what the white in the dress is doing. He changed the touch, and it’s a cloud.”

Whitney’s paintings speak the language of abstract expressionism but also tell us something about vision. His color is an amalgam of colors seen, tested not by theory but by what exists in the world. Real color is fleeting and often missed or lost in speed and distraction; we see in grays more than we realize. Whitney’s abstractions remind us of the sumptuousness that surrounds us, then propel us back out into the world to see it for ourselves.

Brett Baker

Notes: Quotes from David Reed interview with Stanley Whitney BOMB 123/Spring 2013

In a the video below, Peer Eriksson interviews Stanley Whitney in his New York studio.

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