Stanley Whitney - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale London Wednesday, October 21, 2020 | Phillips

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  • A Style Apart in the New York Art Scene

    Painted in 2018, Butter’s Real Name presents a bright gridded work on canvas, a prime example of Stanley Whitney’s oeuvre. The present work stands out to the viewer as thick blocks of paint contrast against each other in altering bright hues and tones. One section, from which the work takes its title, is coloured lighter than the others in a smooth buttery yellow. Butter’s Real Name attests to Whitney’s career as a key player in 20th century abstraction. Whitney arrived on the New York art scene in 1968 with strong intentions towards his practice, criticising his contemporaries such as Mark Rothko, Josef Albers, Carl Andre and Kenneth Noland for stripping away too much of the essence and purity of paint. Stanley Whitney chose to align himself with the Colour Field painters and gravitated towards influential characters such as the art critic, Clement Greenberg. He once stated, 'I felt they were all giving too much up. They gave the hand up, they were focused on being flat against the wall, what you see is what you get—I didn’t like that idea. I didn’t want to give up Courbet, I didn’t want to give up Goya, I didn’t want to give up Velázquez—I didn’t want to give up anything.'

    'The colour makes the structure. I wanted a system that allowed me to lay colour down when I felt like it—I wanted nothing to get in my way. When I start these paintings, I have no idea what it’s going to be. I don’t start with a sketch or an idea. I start by laying as much colour down as I possibly can. Once I’ve laid it all out and see what I have, then I start to mentally engage and figure out what I think is working and what I don’t.' —Stanley Whitney

    Nostalgia through Colour


    Whitney’s style of composing colours is greatly inspired by structural buildings of Egyptian architecture. The uniformity of his blocks is staggered through layers of transparent paint in order to create a clear distinction between each grid. Curator Lauren Haynes once noted on the nostalgic quality of his work. 'Whitney’s work interrogates the connections among colours, how they lead to and away from one another, what memories they are associated with…Whitney’s colours take on lives of their own. They evoke memory and nostalgia. This orange takes you back to your favourite childhood t-shirt; that blue reminds you of your grandmother’s kitchen. Whitney’s paintings remind us, on a universal scale, of the ability of colour to trigger feelings and sensations.'ii Through painting, the artist also conveys a sense of rhythm and harmony, reminiscent of Jazz music. Today, Whitney’s paintings are collected in numerous public institutions around the globe, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, Madazzino d’Arte Moderna, Rome and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.


    Photo: EFE/Alamy

    Stanley Whitney Talks Art and Experience


    In an interview with BOMB Magazine, Stanley reminisces on his first encounters with art.


    Alteronce Gumby: What was your first art experience?


    Stanley Whitney: Well, my first art experience was going to a Saturday art program in Bryn Mawr when I was ten. I knew I liked art, but in the community no one ever thought about it. I never thought much about it either. I didn’t know what it meant to be an artist. I thought I could make money being a commercial artist. So I went to this program.

    I remember it clearly. We painted this model, in oil paint, and I used every color on the palette. The art teacher loved it, but all the other kids’ paintings were either sepia, black and white, or trying to be real realistic. And mine was full of color. I had no idea why I had done that, and I took it home, and my parents said, 'What’s this?' So I put it in the back of the closet and never went back to the program.


    It was hard, because I wasn’t used to being around white people—while it wasn’t segregated, you really didn’t socialize with them. You went to school with white people, you had white teachers and white classmates, but outside of that, you never talked to anybody white. You socialized with black people. In this art class I was the only black student, and then I was such an oddball—I’d painted this odd painting. So, I just couldn’t handle it. I never went back. My brother, who was a year older, was already in the Boy Scouts. I was a Cub Scout. So, I went to the Boy Scouts, where I would do camping and stuff like that. I didn’t go back to the art program. That was my first real art experience.


    Alteronce Gumby: When did you first recognize what art was?


    Stanley Whitney:  Well, that’s a hard one. All through grade school to junior high, my friend Flubby and I did all the decorations for prom, and we did the drawings for the school newspaper—illustrations, stuff like that. But I didn’t know about the Philadelphia Museum, or the Barnes Foundation, or the Pennsylvania Academy. I just knew I could draw, and people said to me, 'If you can draw those illustrations, like in a newspaper, you can make a lot of money.' The big thing was, like I said, we were really, really poor. My siblings and I grew up above my father’s store, basically a two-bedroom apartment with six people in it. It was tight. I knew I wanted to make art. I knew even in high school. I wasn’t academic. I wasn’t going to go to college. I didn’t participate well in high school because I just didn’t like it. My older brother did pretty well. He got a soccer scholarship to Lycoming College, and my sister went to Howard University. My brother ended up transferring to Howard. But I was really anti-establishment. I just didn’t participate. So, I knew I’d go to art school.


    Read the rest of the interview here


    In the Studio with Stanley Whitney

    i Stanley Whitney quoted in Aruna D’Souza, ‘The Color Makes the Structure: Stanley Whitney Paints a Picture,’ artnews, 30 May 2017, online
    ii Lauren Haynes, ‘Orange That Blue, Stanley Whitney: Dance the Orange, The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, 2015, p. 28

    • Provenance

      Galerie Nordenhake, Berlin
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Artist Biography

      Stanley Whitney

      American • 1946

      Inspired by Renaissance painting, Minimalist sculpture and jazz music, Stanley Whitney’s oeuvre has become central to the current discourse of abstract painting in the contemporary era. Following recent solo exhibitions at the Modern Art Museum, Fort Worth and the Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, the 72-year-old artist has only just received the critical acclaim he deserves. After moving to New York from Philadelphia at the age of 22, Whitney aligned himself with the Color Field painters, often working in the shadows of his contemporaries including Frank Stella and Kenneth Noland. Throughout the decades that followed, however, the artist soon established himself as a key player in 20th century abstraction, traveling the world and gaining recognition not only in the studio, but also in the classroom, where he has taught Painting and Drawing at the Tyler School of Art for over 30 years. As such, Whitney’s influence extends to a generation of new artists exploring the formal tenants of painting today.

      As Lauren Haynes, curator of Whitney’s solo show at the Studio Museum in 2015, aptly wrote, “Whitney’s work interrogates the connections among colors, how they lead to and away from one another, what memories they are associated with…Whitney’s colors take on lives of their own. They evoke memory and nostalgia. This orange takes you back to your favorite childhood t-shirt; that blue reminds you of your grandmother’s kitchen. Whitney’s paintings remind us, on a universal scale, of the ability of color to trigger feelings and sensations.”

      View More Works


Butter's Real Name

signed and titled 'Stanley Whitney "Butter Real Name"' on the reverse
oil on linen
183.5 x 183.2 cm (72 1/4 x 72 1/8 in.)
Painted in 2018.

Full Cataloguing

£150,000 - 200,000 

Sold for £277,200

Contact Specialist

Tamila Kerimova
Specialist, Head of Day Sale, Director

20th Century & Contemporary Art

+44 20 7318 4065

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale

London Auction 21 October 2020