African American Abstract painter and sculptor Jack Whitten was greatly influenced by the work of artists Willem de Kooning and Romare Howard Bearden and jazz musicians Miles Davis and John Coltrane. He liked to call his work “art with truth and soul.”
Born in Alabama in 1939. he studied pre-med at Tuskegee Institute, but his life changed when he heard Martin Luther King speak in nearby Montgomery, Alabama. He realized that he could not stay in the south due to racial violence. Whitten moved to New York City, enrolled at Cooper Union and graduated with a degree in fine art.
In 2015, President Barack Obama awarded Whitten the National Medal of Arts Award. He also received the John Hay Whitney Fellowship, an Individual Artist’s Fellowship from the National Endowments for the Arts, and the Guggenheim Fellowship. He was awarded an honorary doctorate from the San Francisco Art Institute and Brandeis University in 2014 and 2016, respectively.