A brush with... Stanley Whitney

Stanley Whitney talks to Ben Luke about his influences—from writers to musicians and, of course, other artists—and the cultural experiences that have shaped his life and work. Whitney, ​​born in Philadelphia in 1946, makes abstract paintings that feature interlocking rectangles, squares and bands of paint whose intense colours hum with musical resonance and rhythm. Rigorously structured yet full of improvisation and unexpected incident, his paintings are both arresting and slow-burning: they grab you with their bold hues and hold you with their complex harmonies and dissonances, their sense of constant movement. He is particularly known for his square-format paintings of the past two decades but his career has been a lifelong search for a distinctive form of painting—one that, as he has said, is defiantly abstract yet contains “the complexity of the world”. He reflects on his encounters with an early mentor, Philip Guston; being painted by Barkley Hendricks, a fellow student at Yale; and his close friendship with David Hammons. He discusses his love of Paul Cezanne, Vincent van Gogh, Paolo Veronese and Henri Matisse, as well as the work of Gees Bend quilters. And explains how he connects this deep love of painting to musical greats including Miles Davis, Charlie Parker and Charlie Mingus. Plus he discusses in detail his life in the studio and answers our usual questions, including “what is art for?”

Stanley Whitney: How High the Moon, Buffalo AKG Art Museum, Buffalo, US, 9 February-27 May; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, US, 14 November-16 March 2025; Institute of Contemporary Art /Boston, US, 17 April 2025–1 September 2025; Stanley Whitney: Dear Paris, Gagosian, Paris, until 28 February.

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