Nick Whittle Artist




Texts

The Journey

To Be A Man

To Fly and To Root

A Willing Suspension of Disbelief

Whittle's Graphic Work

Nick Whittle's Graphic Prints and Poetry

Caliban's Metamorphosis





To Fly and To Root

Nick Whittle, who was born in Birmingham, but now lives and works in Barbados and spends some of his time in Finland, is in his multicultural and multiform approach like anti-essentialism personified. Whittle is primarily a visual artist but he is also a critic, curator and poet – and not without merit as a piano player, either. A reflection of Whittle’s artistic diversity is that as a young art student he fell in love with the works of Dadaist Kurt Scwitters, but did his final thesis work in art history on Baroque artist, Nicolas Poussin.

Whittle, who fled from a stifling Thatcher’s Britain to Barbados, has traveled a long journey to the recesses of his own and at the same time colonial British identity. He has called himself a ”diarist”, but his notes are not only an intimate mapping of the self but also a more general plumbing of the pain spots of our common world and shared experiences. Whittle’s premises lead just as much to ”pure” observation of nature as to a cultural history charged with symbols. His work returns again and again to the same story – the moment when an innocent observation gives birth to symbolic thinking through associations that are sometimes harder to trace, sometimes more obvious. The artist walks on a secluded shore on the barren eastern coast of Barbados, finds a coral or a shell and in it a shape: the spiral is an act of creation, unfolding evolution, a dangerous hurricane, a Greek pillar, a symbol of energy, an erotic encounter…

Even if Whittle’s diary were a story of his own journey and his shapes part of his slowly shaped personal iconography, the observer on the shore is always aware of a history we should all remember – in Whittle’s words:

Arawak, Carib, Massa and Slave
walked this way, yesterday.
Our histories stored in stone, shell and sand
cleansed and softened in brine.

When I look at Whittle’s most recent, mixed media works, my attention fixes on the canvas strips that fall freely from the traditional rectangles, some with different material attached to them, others burnt. Again, I see the fluctuation pattern or pendulum motion characteristic of Whittle’s work. He himself calls the strips ”kite tails”, but one could just as well see them as roots. And if it is kites that are in question, would the fire be same as the one through which Icarus met his fate? Can a man fly and root himself at the same time? This, too, is something Whittle could ask – as we can all, through the ideogram he created which cannot be resolved into parts.
 
Otso Kantokorpi
Helsinki, Finland 2007.
Translation: Susan Heiskanen

Catalogue essay Whittle in Context 2008