Frieze Masters | London | Spotlight Sector | Booth H7
Jack Whitten: Experiments with Toner
Alexander Gray Associates presented work on paper by Jack Whitten (b.1939) created between 1974 and 1975. A pivotal moment in Whitten’s process-oriented practice, the works on view are made from the manipulation of toner on paper, emblematic of the artist’s prodigious experimentation that has continued to influence his practice in subsequent decades.
Whitten defines the year 1974 as the first time he set up experiments for himself with objectives, describing his activities as “laboratory work.” It was also during this year when his first encounter with toner as a medium occurred during a research grant at the Xerox Corporation headquarters in Rochester, NY. Returning to his New York studio after the residency, the work that emerged explored the dry and highly sensitive material as their subject, expanding Whitten’s interest in photography as an analogy to painting. As art historian Kellie Jones explains, this connection “…was not a nod to figuration but his way of considering the painted surface as something developed and activated by process.” Through the application of loose toner each piece takes on a topographical quality. As a former airman-in-training at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama in 1958, the idea of perceived borders and demarcations has had a lasting influence on his practice. Never far removed from the social and political, Whitten looked to his studies with toner as a way to transmit information akin to the images being projected into the world that had never been seen before, including war-time aerial photographs and lunar landscapes.
Exhibited together for the first time, the presentation included a selection of individual “Xerox monotypes” and two large scale canvases made from the collaging of forty-two individual works on rice paper that have been “processed” through a series of methods aimed to transfer toner directly to the paper surface. Whitten used a variety of techniques to randomly distribute the toner to different effects, including applying rollers to produce subtle tonal variations; rubbing it to yield sharp lines and irregular textures; and raking a stylus across the page to make thin, horizontal lines that cut across the width of the paper. "Xerox Project" and "Organic Series XII" (both 1974) exemplify these innovative investigations, resulting in dense surfaces of rich textures amplified by shadows and ghosted geometric forms.
Whitten’s experiments with toner as a medium have had enduring effects on his later paintings. Whitten situates his shift to the monochromatic palette of the now iconic “Greek Alphabet Series” (1974–1979) to his toner works, along with his continued exploration of the removal of the artist’s hand through the use of tools to achieve both speed and spontaneity. Further, the large-scale canvases of "Xeroxed!" and "Xeroxed! III" (both 1975) serve as studies in composition, with an adherence to the grid that forecast his tesseraeted acrylic collage paintings of the 1990s and the topographic surfaces of recent paintings.
About Frieze Masters
Frieze Masters is a fair which presents a contemporary perspective on historical art. The fair features leading galleries showcasing art made before the year 2000, ranging from the ancient era and old masters to the late 20th century. Frieze Masters' Spotlight is a section of the fair dedicated to 20th century art made all over the world, from Latin America to the Middle East.