Cullen Washington Jr

Selected works by Cullen Washington Jr

Cullen Washington Jr


Tape, acrylic, paper, canvas

213.4 x 304.8 cm

“For me, the grid is the compositional and conceptual device upon which my work hinges itself. It is the vertical and horizontal framework that holds unlimited things”.

Cullen Washington Jr
Untitled #5


Canvas, paper, tape, found materials

213.3 x 365.7 cm

There is a fetishistic quality to Cullen Washington’s paintings, evident in his use of scraps of pre-used canvas held together with sticky tape to form a rugged, rhythmic surface. His broadly monochromatic collages are punctuated with bursts of raw colour that introduce cultural references through a use of found materials.

Cullen Washington Jr
Untitled #4


Canvas, paper, tape and found materials

229 x 213 cm

The initial immediacy in the appearance of these paintings is underpinned by a considerable thought process, Cullen has commented “Sometimes weeks of visualization and clarification in my thinking precede the actual act of making which can then be swift and deliberate.”. Untitled, 1, 2012, Untitled 4, and 5, 2013 and Infinity, 2013, are all irregularly shaped, un-stretched paintings that are constructed around a loose grid, while still adhering to the rules of formal purity followed by painters such as Mondrian and Malevich. The variety of materials used in these paintings are treated with equal importance, both for their surface appearance and texture, as if Washington is using them as he would paint itself, for their colour, flatness, roughness, geometric precision and so on. For example, instead of replicating a type of mark or effect with paint, he substitutes them with the real thing. Turned up edges resemble paint drips, black tape provides a defined outline while also physically separating and defining areas of the painting, establishing a rigour that belies the harshness of its functional nature.

Cullen Washington Jr
Untitled #1


Canvas, paper, tape and found materials

213 x 366 cm

The freedom Cullen applies in assembling his work echoes the ideas of artists such as Jean-Michel Basquiat or Robert Rauschenberg who physically deconstructed painting in order to look for ways to extend its possibilities. The result is deliberate, richly built-up surfaces that flip between 2D and 3D relief and demonstrate an intuitive and subtle sensitivity towards this hands-on working process.

Text by Gemma de Cruz


SMFA Boston

A few years ago, Cullen Washington Jr. was living comfortably in Atlanta, teaching art to kids and selling his abstract figurative paintings to a handful of dedicated patrons. Yet it wasn't quite enough. "I wanted to take my work to another level," he says. He moved north to enroll in the Museum School's Post-Baccalaureate program and experienced a huge psychological shift. "In Atlanta I had a sales-oriented mentality," he says. "I'd been creating work for a specific market. Now my work has become more open-ended. It still has themes, but there are no barriers."

Washington's subject matter and use of materials stem from his experience and heritage as a black American. During his first year at the Museum School, he created a series about slavery that incorporated materials such as coffee, tobacco, and cotton sacks. These days, though, he seeks to transcend the issue of race. "My philosophy now is not to paint about race, but to use a black face to represent notions that are universal," he says. Case in point: his figurative paintings of women in classical poses that look Greco-Roman and Africanesque at the same time.

Washington grew up in Alexandria, Louisiana, always drawing, always receiving art supplies for Christmas gifts. He had his first solo show at the age of nine, in his elementary school's library, where he told a local newspaper reporter that he was considering a career as either a scientist or a car designer. Washington studied graphic design in college and worked as a successful commercial artist for more than a decade in Baton Rouge, then moved to Atlanta to focus on his painting.

It was there he began to teach art: in a charter school, at a Boys & Girls Club, in the Fulton County Juvenile Court system. He saw how kids with behavior problems could change if they found good mentors and got the chance to be in a constructive, collaborative environment. Now a Master of Fine Arts candidate, Washington's goal is to start a school of his own. "I want to help out people who come up behind me," he says. "I'm getting to the point where art is a means to another end."

Source: smfa