Set in Motion: Kinetic Worlds from the Studio of Richard Whitten

Set in Motion

Kinetic Worlds from the Studio of Richard Whitten

Set in Motion: Kinetic Worlds from the Studio of Richard Whitten brings a collection of 59 paintings, sculptures, and drawings that explore Whitten’s body of work. Set in Motion includes four recent works by Whitten and follows his process from ideation to completion – beginning with drawings, then to painting studies, and on to large-scale works.

A close investigation of the artist’s use of spatial realism to depict scenes frozen in time and space is at the core of this project. Whitten pushes the boundaries of physics where unanticipated and unexpected shifts in forces animate devices once set in motion. A reoccurring subject, multiple wooden balls frozen in close proximity, where the viewer can almost hear the cracking sound of them colliding in his methodically created work. Architecture, engineering, and fantastic inventions coalesce in a carnival-like world that pays homage to classical art history and invention while evoking playfulness and whimsy. His oil-on-wood paintings integrate cross-cultural inflections of Chinese and Islamic architectural elements with the linear perspective drafting techniques perfected by Italian Renaissance artists that underpin global scientific and engineering draftsmanship to this day. Visitors are invited to immerse themselves in the pages of a twenty-first-century codex that showcases Whitten’s drawings of historic scientific instruments. These include works from the Medici collection at the Museo Galileo, Florence, arranged with pencil-on-paper prototypes of the artist’s invention and paired with his finished paintings.

Richard Whitten’s artistic practice grew out of his painterly desire to pivot from abstract expressionism to realism. He engages with scale to create intricate interior spaces. Custom-built easels facilitate the artist’s work on oversized eight-foot works. Minute details are rendered with mathematical precision using the finest of oil brushes. The frame, Whitten notes, is not a window but “an object that exists in the world of the viewer.” The resulting works invite the viewer to enter these kinetic worlds held in suspended animation and activated by their imagination. Set in Motion compels a natural discourse between Whitten’s contemporary oeuvre and the Morris Museum’s historical Guinness Collection of Mechanical Musical Instruments of Automata.

Richard Whitten studied Economics, Math, and Art at Yale University, receiving a BA with Honors in Economics. The son of an American businessman and a Chinese painter, Whitten worked as a commodity futures broker before receiving a Regents Fellowship and an MFA in painting at the University of California at Davis. He joined the faculty at Rhode Island College in 2006 and is represented by ArtMora Gallery in Ridgefield Park, NJ, Clark Gallery in Lincoln, MA, William•Scott Gallery in Provincetown, MA, and the Natsoulas Gallery in Davis, CA. His work is in permanent collections of museums on both coasts. He is a recipient of a 2022-23 Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant.

This exhibition is curated by Anne Ricculli, Ph.D., Director of Exhibits and Collections, Morris Museum.

Leadership support for this exhibition is provided by Will and Mary Leland. Additional support is provided by M&T Bank Charitable Foundation.

Richard Whitten gratefully acknowledges generous support from Rhode Island Council on the Arts (RISCA); Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation Artist’s Resource Trust; Golden Apple Art Residency, Harrington, Maine; and Rhode Island College.

Image Caption: Richard Whitten, Tellurian, 2021, oil on wood panel, 46 x 30 inches. On loan from the collection of Roger and Sara Preston. Photography by David DeMelim is courtesy of the artist.



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