This essay closely surveys Jack Whitten’s 2014 retrospective at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego. An emphasis on the aesthetics of gestural abstraction informs Whitten’s work of the last five decades, resulting in a body of work that pushes through historical events and innovative techniques of painting that demonstrate the depths of his commitment to gestural abstraction as his primary mode of creative expression. Attentive to shifting terrain in technology, culture, and African American history during his lifetime, Whitten’s work participates in a memorial project that defines his oeuvre as one that establishes his life experience as social history through the art of painting. His lifelong practice of abstraction, and the resulting bodies of work exhibited in the retrospective, confirm a prominent place for Whitten’s among the outstanding practitioners of American painting.

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