Tim Whiten, a maker of images and objects both playful and mysterious, is the winner of the 2022 Gershon Iskowitz Prize, the Art Gallery of Ontario announced Wednesday. The $75,000 award is a career prize that recognizes an outstanding contribution to the visual arts in Canada and includes the opportunity of a solo exhibition at the AGO.
Whiten, 81, is a Toronto artist with a 50-year career. His drawings, sculptures, installations and performances draw on his knowledge of spiritual practices from around the world, including Zen Buddhism and Jewish mysticism.
Through his use of materials such as leather, glass and bone, Whiten is particularly recognized for sculptures that evoke connections between life and death, the physical and the spiritual, and the emotional and intellectual. Skulls are a recurring motif, but tools, toys, vessels and vehicles also show up.
Whiten calls himself an “image maker who also creates cultural objects” rather than an artist. ”The process is what guides the work,” he said in a statement provided by the AGO.
Artist Max Dean, a member of the prize jury, identified an intersection of physical craft and spiritual presence as a defining feature of Whiten’s work: “One is at first taken in by the material, but the content of the work transcends.”
Born in Michigan, and educated there and in Oregon, Whiten served in the U.S. Army before he came to Canada in 1968 to teach in the fine arts faculty at York University. Recognized as an inspiring teacher there, he retired in 2009 with the title professor emeritus. An exhibition of Whiten’s work will take place at the AGO in 2025.