Portrait of Richard Whitten

Portrait of Richard Whitten with Orrery Portrait of Richard Whitten with Orrery Orrery Orrery Detail Dellschau Bumblebee Dellschau Bumblebee Detail Dellschau Bumblebee Studio Installation View of Studio
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Born of mixed Asian and American parentage, Richard Whitten grew up in Manhattan. Richard Whitten 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. He 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. He is represented by ArtMora Gallery, NY and Seoul, Korea; Clark Gallery, Lincoln, MA; and Dedee Shattuck Gallery in Westport, MA, and the William Scott Gallery in Provincetown, MA. He is presently a Professor of Painting and Art Department Chairperson at Rhode Island College.

Artist’s Statement

My paintings investigate intellectual play. Some depict invented architectural spaces that contain invented machines and others are meant to be games in themselves – games to be played in the imagination.


In person, what one notices first about my paintings is that they are objects – shaped but entirely flat wood panels. They are mounted to “hover” just off the wall – to exist, like sculpture, in the world of the viewer. Then, the viewer is meant to have an almost physical sense of the transition through the painted surface¬– to feel as if a hand could pass through the painting into a world on the other side.


That world is drawn from my experiences, dreams, and interests:

For many years, I competed in an obscure field: building and flying ultra-light indoor model airplanes. These planes had 65cm (25.6 inch) wingspans – even though they weighed little more than a gram. They flew at the speed of a slow walk in countless counterclockwise circles, rising to the 200 foot high ceilings of the dirigible hangars in which I competed. They were powered by a single wound rubber loop – a unique “rubber band” – that was wound over 2000 times. The loop turned a propeller – almost as long as the wingspan – at approximately one revolution per second. The goal was to have the longest flight. My personal best was 36 minutes and 19 seconds.

The technical skill needed to make these flying machines, the unique slow motion of the flight, and the amazing buildings in which I competed; all left their mark on my visual obsessions.

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 reach them and 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.

Similarly, I am drawn to antique toys, mechanical devices and scientific instruments – particularly those that involve repetitive circular motion.

Dreams and interests are fused in a primary series of paintings. I build working models of machines that I invent. I use these models as references for paintings, “placing” these “machines” into architecture about which I have perhaps dreamed ¬– the world of my paintings. There, they wait for the viewer’s glance or “touch” to propel them into motion.

A second more recently developed series finds its source in antique “Dexterity Puzzles”. A player tips these small glass-covered boxes to roll tiny ball bearings into holes or through mazes. One never touches the bearings, nor does one touch these paintings, which similarly challenge and entertain the viewer.


My need to fuse the world of the viewer with the world of the paintings can be attributed to the fact that I am of mixed Asian and American parentage and have bridged two worlds throughout my life. Nevertheless, it is my opinion that my paintings are simply about intellectual play, fascination, and delight.



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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