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‘I’m staying at Larry Gagosian’s place’ – Stanley Whitney’s long journey from rat-infested New York

His wobbly blocks of high-key colours, painted while listening to Miles Davis, have made Whitney America’s greatest Black abstract artist. As a new show opens in the UK, he relives his tough early days

I’m early, but the gallery receptionist tells me that Stanley will be right down. Right down from where, I wonder. The artist, Stanley Whitney, has an exhibition of new work opening this week at Gagosian in London and will be spending the next couple of months in Paris with his wife Marina Adams, who is also an artist. So, here I am at the gallery’s sleek outpost off the Champs-Élysées. Whitney appears and says, “We’re staying in Larry’s apartment upstairs,” smiling as he hears the words out loud, then laughing at how inconceivable they sound. That’s Larry as in Larry Gagosian, titan of the art world, owner of the international chain of galleries.

The 77-year-old Whitney is the greatest Black abstract artist in America, and his patchwork canvases composed of wobbly blocks of high-key colours are now in great demand. Some works on paper have been on show at the Baltimore Museum of Art since last November, and he’s working towards a major retrospective at the Buffalo AKG Art Museum, due next year. How does it feel to look back over his career? “Awful!” he replies, letting out another laugh, louder this time. “I am excited, but I’m trying to move forward rather than look through old work and wonder why I didn’t keep doing it. I mean, I probably would have if anyone had been interested.” Recognition has been a long time coming.

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