Abstract painter and sculptor Jack Whitten was born in Alabama in 1939. After enrolling as a pre med student, he realized that he could not stay in the south due to racial violence. Moving to New York City, he enrolled at Cooper Union and graduated with a degree in fine art. He was greatly influenced by the work of Willem de Kooning and Romare Howard Bearden. In 2015, President Barack Obama awarded Whitten the 2015 National Medal of Arts Award.