William Ferrin Whitaker, Jr. was born in Chicago, Illinois, in 1943. He is a classical-realist figure painter known for sensitive drawings of women. He was formerly an artist-in-residence at Brigham Young University. He lives in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Whitaker earned a BA from the University of Utah where Alvin Gittins was his mentor. Whitaker later studied at the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles. As a student of academic and salon art, he is influenced by little-known artists who were famous in their day, J. Vibert Florent Willems and Charles Bargue.
Whitaker's work has been honored by the Springville Museum of Art, the Utah Institute of Fine Arts, and the National Cowboy Hall of Fame. Young Woman (1976) is part of the Springville Museum of Art's permanent collection.
Biography adapted from Artists of Utah.
William Whitaker was born in Chicago, Illinois, the fourth child and only son of W. Ferrin and Martha (Bassett) Whitaker. His father was a fourth generation Utahn who went east and eventually established a successful commercial art studio, Whitaker-Gurnsey, in Chicago, Illinois. Ferrin Whitaker was also a designer and painter. William, who by the age of five had already shown natural artistic ability, often visited his father's firm.
When William was six years old, his father retired and the family moved to LaJolla, California. Bored after three years of retirement, Ferrin and Martha, during a vacation to their native Utah, decided to purchase a summer resort, Schneitter's Hot Pots, in the small mountain community of Midway. The name was changed to "The Homestead" and for the next 20 years, many members of the Whitaker family worked together to establish the still-popular family resort. The quiet beauty of the mountains surrounding this remote valley, the late springs and early autumn, and the long twilight evenings greatly influenced Whitaker's style and his preference for subdued colors.
Each autumn, William and his sister enrolled in school in the neighboring community of Heber. Then, in October, the family left to winter in Carmel, California, until April, when they returned to Midway. During their Carmel stay, William studied painting. At the beginning of his senior of high school, In the autumn of 1960, Whitaker quit public school and was accepted at the University of Utah on the basis of his high test scores and was admitted into Alvin Gittins' advanced drawing class.
Whitaker was discouraged by his family from declaring an art major, so for the first two years he concentrated his studies in general education. At the age of 19 years, he interrupted his studies to fill a two-year LDS mission in Germany. While there, he worked as an assistant to the President of the European Mission, Ezra Taft Benson. Upon his return, in spite of his interest in art, he was encouraged by his father to study business. During this time, he worked for Evans Advertising Agency in Salt Lake City on LDS Church display projects and did many illustrations for the Church magazines, theInstructor and the Improvement Era.
In the spring of 1967, Gittins invited Whitaker to spend a semester with a small group of art students in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. This was the turning point in Whitaker's life; it was on this trip that he knew he must be an artist. Upon returning to the University, he dutifully completed the last semester of his business degree in December of 1967 and commenced to be an artist.
Following graduation, and while interviewing for jobs in illustration in Los Angeles, Whitaker was offered a position at Capital Records as their advertising director. The job was exciting and allowed him opportunities to work in illustration, but after two years, Loren Wheelwright called from Brigham Young University with an offer for Whitaker to set up a graphic design department for the University. He accepted the offer and in 1969, returned to Utah. During the first six years, William taught commercial and advertising art but gradually moved into the fine arts and became an Associate Professor. By the end of 12 years at BYU, Whitaker was building a national reputation for his pastel drawings of the female figure, especially Native Americans, and decided to quit teaching so he could paint full-time in his home studio.
In 1985, Whitaker and his family moved to Mesa, Arizona, where he lived and painted until 1990. He eventually returned to Provo, Utah, where he still resides, painting six days each week in his studio.
As an academic painter, Whitaker has consistently painted in natural north light. By posing his model under quiet high light he is able to achieve sharp clear highlights, richness in the shadows, and sensitive figure- defining transitions between them. In addition, since north light is most consistent, not receiving direct sunlight at any time during the year, he is able to see and mix colors that do not compromise their value, clarity, or integrity.
The list of awards, lectures, exhibits, articles, and other honors received during Whitaker's long career is impressive. As examples: He has been in National Academy of Western Art exhibitions yearly since 1975; he won the Cowboy Hall of Fame Watercolor exhibition Gold Medal Award in 1976; the National Academy of Western Art's Silver Medal for drawing in 1977; a Director's Award in the 1996 Springville Museum Spring Salon; and his work was in the 1981 American Western Art Exhibition in Beijing, China. He has exhibited at the Artist's of America annual sale and exhibit since its inception in 1981 and is an AOA Master. His work is in the collections of Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, and the Church Museum of History and Art in Salt Lake City, and the Museum of Fine Art, St. Petersburg, Florida, to name a few. Articles about him have appeared in Arizona Highways Magazine, Southwest Art, and Art Talk. In 1982, he was featured in the PBS Televisions series "Profiles in American Art."
Whitaker's career as a gallery artist has spanned more than 20 years. Whitaker describes his training as being " . . . Most influenced by the academicians of the last century for their craftsmanship, by the impressionists for their color and life, and by the abstract expressionists for their boldness." The Flemish painters have greatly influenced him by their spiritual sincerity and integrity.
Though his work has most consistently been figurative, he has said,
My figures are not portraits of any particular person, rather they change and evolve until they have lives of their own. My paintings represent the beauty, not of the surface, but of that which is inside us.
In 1994 Whitaker made a decision to change from producing exclusively gallery work to becoming a portrait artist. This decision has brought him back to his original training with Alvin Gittins. Of this change he has said, "For years I have painted female figures that exist in unreal worlds of their own, now I am interested in painting real people who have accomplished real things."
In the short period since making this decision, William Whitaker has received commissions from the Church Museum of History and Art in Salt Lake City, from Brigham Young University in Provo, and from private collectors. Currently, he is represented by Portraits, Incorporated, in New York City, the foremost portrait gallery in the nation.
Whitaker views himself as a visual historian, and rather than depict the past, he prefers to paint for future generations. He says that although "We tend to live as though the here and now is the way things will always be. Two or three hundred years down the road, our posterity will wonder how we ever lived through these times." And "A well-painted portrait, embodying both likeness and spirit, is the next best thing to being there."
History has proven that properly cared for, images painted in oil can last more than 1000 years. William Whitaker's work, whether it is figurative and in an unreal world or living likenesses of real people in our real world, will endure this test of time.
Biography courtesy of The Springville Museum of Art.
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