Jack Whitten: 9.11.01



2006, acrylic and mixed media on canvas which include ash and molten materials from the World Trade Center site; and bone fragments and blood from a butcher.

Jack Whitten, 1939-2018, American.  Baltimore Art Museum



Born in Bessemer, Alabama, the artist moved to New York in 1960 as a student after violent confrontation at a Civil Rights march.


He began painting in the early 1960s, aligning himself with the Abstract Expressionists then still dominant. 


 The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in an exhibition of the artist’s sculpture in 2018, noted that the artist had abandoned brushes by the early 1970s.


Instead, he moved to experimenting with process:  using acrylic paint, he poured, levelled, scraped, raked, impressed and incised it with various tools which he made or improvised.


In the early 1980s, he began building his paintings much as he built his sculptures and referred thereafter to ‘making’ his paintings as he made his sculptures. 


 After his marriage to a Greek-American, the artist spent his summers in a village on Crete. There he sculpted.


His move to a syncretic appreciation of art had long since begun:  New York;  African art as he knew it from museum collections, Classical Greek art, modern Mediterranean art and the tradition of Western art.


In 1987, Jack Whitten began making the series he called Black Monoliths to memorialize excellence in the black arts, politics, sports. He made 11 of these.


On 9/11/2001, he was in his studio in New York and witnessed the attack on the Twin Towers from there. 


  It is interesting to note that this pyramid is also a black monolith even if the artist did not attach this name to it as he did to the 11 he made.



 The artist left to individual interpretation why he depicted the destruction of 9/11/2001 with a central black pyramid. 


The commonest interpretation is that the pyramid is a memorial to the dead. Other interpretations reflect conspiracy theories about the origin and reason for this attack on the Twin Towers.