Whitney settled on his signature format – stacked irregular rectangles of color within a square format canvas – following time spent in Italy and a visit to Egypt in the mid-1990s. However, in earlier work of the ’70s and ’80s, Whitney was seeking a sense of lightness and air in his compositions and worked to achieve this by allowing a great deal of space between gestures, which were then applied in loose, overlapping whorls. He has noted, “I didn’t know at this point that the space was in the color. I kept thinking the space was around, and the color was all in the space. When I put the colors directly next to each other, I realized they didn’t lose the air.” Four paintings from this vital, transitional period, when Whitney first began to solidify his swirling strokes into intense colour grids, will be on view at 138 Tenth Avenue, alongside a series of drawings from 2013-14 which demonstrate Whitney’s evolving exploration of the balance between hue and expression.
A series of new paintings on view at 504 West 24th Street celebrates Whitney’s now mature approach to the gridded abstract. Over many years this style has been honed, tightened and defined, perhaps in response to the cumulative influence of everything from the meditative, multi-faceted landscapes of Paul Cézanne and the stacked structures of classical architecture, to the expansive color fields of monochrome painting and the bold, color-blocked quilts of African-American textile makers. Yet the sensitive and lively placement of color retains its importance in this newly discovered pictorial space and it is within the transitions between passages of color where Whitney evokes the most rhythmic qualities of painting. By varying the density and transparency of the rectangles, he is able to further adjust the amount and quality of color in space. The exhibition’s title comes from the title of a recent work, In the Color, which also demonstrates this increasingly precise ‘call and response’ between each colored zone of paint. This work has been executed in the largest square format of Whitney’s oeuvre, 96 inches by 96 inches, and is comprised of four rows containing a line-up of between five to six colors in each band. The individual rectangles retain a bold, opaque quality with less of the drips and swirling fluidity of the early grid work. The importance is, as always, in the color.