Saturday, October 24, 2009


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. He accepted a job as a graphic designer with Capitol Records until he received an offer to teach graphic design at BYU. He resigned his position as associate professor in 1980 to pursue his artistic pursuits.
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. Nancy and Kaedon (1995) won a merit award at the Springville Museum’s spring salon. Tashina is another example of his work.

McTara Gallery

A sketch by William Whitaker
Images from CONCEPTART

A sketch by William Whitaker
freeparking at flickr

The only son of an artist father, William Whitaker grew up in the special world of the working artist. He had access to the finest art materials and was painting in watercolor and oil at the age of six. His fondest early memories are of the sights, sounds and smells of the art studio.
The art world of his childhood and youth was the brave new world of abstract expressionism and until he was well out of college his natural inclination to draw accurately and his love for traditional realism was a source of inner conflict. Nevertheless he was fortunate, starting at age 17, to receive a thorough grounding in academic figure drawing and painting from the portrait painter Alvin Gittins at the University of Utah, and after exploring other styles he followed his heart into traditional art.
Whitaker loves to paint from life in an old fashioned studio. No matter what direction his art takes him, he always comes back to the model in the studio, the form bathed in the beautiful quiet cool light coming down from a high north window. He refers to this kind of seeing and painting as the Old Testament of art and feels there is enough magic to engage him there for the rest of his life.
(Claire Peterson at

The Studio


Images from CONCEPTART

Since 1965 Whitaker has been a professional artist. His paintings are in museums, private and corporate collections throughout North America. During the past thirty-four years, he has been a university art professor, conducted art workshops, and continues to work with one or two advanced student artists for fun. William married Sandra Phillips. They live on the side of a mountain overlooking Utah Valley. Sandra also paints watercolors. He believes the value of painting is to be found in its spiritual power and takes quiet comfort in lovingly attempting to capture something the camera cannot see. "We tend to live as though the here and now is the way things will always be. Two or three hundred years from now, our posterity will wonder how we ever lived through these times. A well-painted portrait embodying both likeness and spirit is an invaluable historical record. It is the next best thing to being there."
(Whistle Pik Galleries)

Lyn Whiteside, 1997
Oil on canvas

Araucana and Blue Andalusian, 1982
Oil on panel

Child of Light, 1999
Oil on panel

The Next Day, 2001
Oil on panel

Waterhouse Gallery

American Native, 2002
Oil on canvas

He said that all great painting was spiritual in nature. The great challenge is to convey the spirit of the subject into the painting. If he doesn’t succeed in doing this, no matter how technically perfect the painting, he feels he has failed. He compares painting with photography by insisting that photography is an exact representation of the physical without the spiritual dimension. In order to be a true artist one must learn to see spiritually as well as physically. He relates the experience of seeing four elderly ladies. As they approached the veil, the more he studied them, the more beautiful they became to him. He was actually able to see their beautiful spirits. When you study a thing long enough, you begin to see its spirit and then that thing becomes beautiful to you. It is up to you as an artist to convey that spiritual beauty. It is this artist’s hope that successive generations will be able to look at his work and say “That man had a testimony.”
William Whitaker wrote "Like everybody else whose worked at painting a long time, I've tried everything. I've learned that Art Leads, I just go along. I didn't consciously set out to be a certain kind of painter, it just evolved. I don't believe there is any one true way, but I'll tell you what I like best. I start loose and juicy. I rarely paint alla prima anymore and I try to smooth out the paint at the end of a session. I dislike the effect when I paint over a textured layer whose texture is in the wrong places. I have a very old, sharp palette knife (sharpened from years of scraping.) I'll carefully scrape texture off a dried surface with it. If I'm working on a panel, I'll often sand the fuzz, texture and grit off the dried paint surface with wet or dry fine sand paper, sanding wet, before painting the next coat - a technique I picked up from house painters.
I'm very aware of what I call "wall presence" or the lack of it. A lot of my best buddies were successful illustrators before they became even more successful gallery painters. They all were smart enough to know and understand that the single most valuable characteristic in a painting on display is the spiritual wall presence. It is easier to achieve this quality with oil paint than with other mediums. This is due to inherent pigment strength and natural body.
It is very hard NOT to have texture even when you try. I believe it's best not to worry one way or another. I think it's a kiss of death to be thinking consciously about technique in the middle of the painting process. One must really love to paint, to be driven as it were, to put in the time necessary to really get proficient.
Many people would like to paint, but not enough to paint those endless failures necessary to get to the good work. If it were otherwise, we'd be overrun with painters.
If there is to be texture in my painting, I want it to be in the last layer. I'm aware of the vast range and intrinsic beauty in oil paint. Using thin paint and thick paint, glazes and opaques, one can create a feast for the eye.
There seem to be a great many folks who are doing high finish (they call it realistic) work out there today. Most of these people paint from the outside in - paint the hair on the dog before painting the dog. Most of the time they are pretty easy to spot. I tell the viewer to check out the following: Do they paint Orange People? Thanks to film, TV and Print, most folks think orange people are realistic! Does everything look like plastic? Enough said about that! What do the broad, quiet passages look like. A poor artist doesn't know how to handle his brush. It shows in the backgrounds."


"I almost always work on a toned ground. A section of toned ground is showing in the lower right corner of this image. My usual tone is a warm grey made by brushing on a thin wash of raw umber, sometimes with a touch of ivory black or ultramarine blue added. Sometimes I let the canvas dry before painting, sometimes I work into the wet toned canvas. It doesn't seem to matter to me"-William Whitaker


"No matter how much we know, if we attempt to make up stuff out of our head, the results soon become trite. Photographs are certainly useful at times, but nothing beats working from life. I painted this head (above) in 1977 as a class demonstration. I worked on a smooth panel using oils and flat sable brushes. I wasn't so cautious then and my work had great spontaneity. Sometimes it worked, sometimes the results were awful. This is one of the very few pieces I still have from that period."-William Whitaker
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 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."
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 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.
(J. Willard Marriott Library)

Ed Trumble, 1996
Oil on canvas

Virginia City Businessman, 2000
Oil on canvas

Pete Smythe, 1995
Oil on canvas

Parade Dress
The 2009 Prix de West on-line

The 2009 Prix de West on-line

The 2009 Prix de West on-line

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