Portrait of Richard Whitten

Portrait of Richard Whitten with Orrery Orrery Orrery Detail Dellschau Bumblebee Dellschau Bumblebee Detail Dellschau Bumblebee Studio Installation View of Studio View of Studio
View of Studio View of Studio View of Studio View of Studio View of Studio View of Studio View of Studio


Born of mixed Asian and American parentage, Richard Whitten grew up in Manhattan. He earned a B.A. in Economics from Yale University and an M.F.A. in Painting from the University of California at Davis where he studied with both Wayne Thiebaud and Robert Arneson.

Mr. Whitten has had numerous exhibitions on both coasts. Notable are major solo exhibitions at the Frye Art Museum in Seattle, Washington, the Newport Art Museum in Newport, Rhode Island, and the University of Maine Museum of Art in Bangor, Maine. He is represented by ArtMora Gallery; New York, New York and Seoul, South Korea, Clark Gallery, Lincoln, Massachusetts; and Dedee Shattuck Gallery, Westport, Massachusetts.

Mr. Whitten is presently a Professor of Painting and Art Department Chairperson at Rhode Island College in Providence, Rhode Island.

Artist’s Statement

My paintings imply the existence of places and of objects of desire that, like the garden and flowers in Alice in Wonderland, can be glimpsed but neither reached nor acquired.

Three major themes have recurred in my recent paintings: invented architectural spaces, invented machines that inhabit those spaces, and the painting itself conceived of as a game.

A recurring theme in my dreams is the discovery of beautiful hidden architectural spaces. I find unknown buildings or hidden passages. I make efforts to get to them and to explore them. Sometimes, I can indeed explore them in the same dream. Sometimes, I have to find them again in another dream – often years later.

I am drawn to antique toys, mechanical devices and scientific instruments – particularly those that involve repetitive motion. I have built several “working models” of such invented machines, which I use as references for my paintings. I place these “machines” into the world of the paintings, where they wait for the moment when the viewer’s glance or “touch” sets them in motion.

I am also drawn to “Tivoli” Games and “Dexterity Puzzles” (little boxes that allow one to move ball bearings and other object into specified holes without touching them).

When a viewer contemplates one of my paintings, the viewer should have an almost physical sense of the transition between their own world and that of my paintings. As the journey begins, the viewer sees that the paintings are on non-rectangular wooden panels. In the painting “Homage to Dellschau: Bumblebee”, (4th, 5th, & 6th images above) one first sees three shaped panels reminiscent of a body and two wings. This painting is pointedly an object, referencing a bumblebee or a flying machine that exists in the world of the viewer – an object that has a physical and sculptural reality.

Parts of the painting are like the marginalia of an illuminated manuscript. They act as both frame and guide into the painting. The viewer travels through an imaginary entrance to the painting’s private world. There, the viewer can visually “touch” a gyroscope-like machine and make it “live”.

As I write the description of these themes, I realize that all my paintings are like the dexterity puzzles described in my third theme. They are all worlds that request the viewers to enter and momentarily remove themselves from day-to-day existence.

I have always stated that, “ultimately, my paintings are about intellectual play – an impetus for learning and exploration”, but now, after consideration of my most recent works, I must also assert that they are as much about fascination and delight.

Technical Information: These paintings are on birch plywood panels that are cut to shape. The image is entirely flat. The “frame” is an illusion. The panel is made to look thick by building up the edges behind the plywood. They are braced on the back with a grid of maple strips that both stop the wood from warping and make the panel “hover” off the wall when mounted.

detail of mouse in painting

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