John Whitehead was born in Demerara, Guyana, in 1954. He came to the United States at age five and grew up in various inner-city neighborhoods on the west side of Oakland, California. At an early age, John showed a high appreciation and ability for visual arts, spatial relationships, and math. By the age of ten, without any formal training, he had begun painting in oils, creating architectural models, working in clay, and drawing imaginative abstract images.
John’s formal training in art began while he was attending Hoover Middle School in West Oakland. Unfortunately, his middle school art classes did not seriously challenge him nor contribute much to his artistic growth. So, by the time John entered high school, he had abandoned all hope of ever growing as an artist or sculptor.
And then, a miracle occurred. Assigned to a sculpting class at the request of his Aunt Ina, he was introduced to the teachings of Richard Davies, a dedicated and talented high school art teacher at McClymonds High School in West Oakland. Under his astute tutelage, John was exposed to a whole new approach to art, which emphasized geometric abstraction, creative expression, and constructivist art. Armed with this new approach, John entered and won a major Oakland Unified School District-sponsored art competition and placed either second or third in several other local art competitions.
In 1972, John enrolled in the University of California, Berkeley. He wanted to study art at Berkeley but was advised by his mother and other family members to pursue a degree in a field that would allow him to permanently escape from inner-city poverty, the trappings of which had defined much of his childhood and early young adult life. After accepting this advice with great resistance, he decided to pursue a major in economics and, in 1975, received his B.A. in economics. In 1983, he was awarded a master’s degree in economics from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
From 1990 to 2015, John taught economics as a tenured professor at City College of San Francisco. Although his early passion and ability for visual arts were largely neglected for most of those years, the urge to do creative artistic work remained firmly anchored within him. So, around 2005, about ten years before retirement, he started laying the groundwork for his eventual serious return to geometric abstract sculpture. At that time, John began creating beautiful multi-colored abstract wall sculptures from various art media. Soon after, he began a new body of work consisting of geometric abstract stainless steel and aluminum sculpture influenced by the sculpting methods and paradigms introduced to him in his high school sculpting class.
John’s talent in the area of modern abstract sculpture was confirmed when, from 2008 to 2012, his sculptures were selected for five consecutive exhibitions at the annual Emeryville Art Exhibition. His highest honor in this prestigious juried exhibition came in 2009, when his avant-garde sculpture, “Passing Through,” placed third (second honorable mention) out of a field of 93 participating artists with works across many art media.
In addition to his mirror-polished stainless steel and aluminum sculptures, John is now working on creating abstract sculpture designs that will be produced in original wood or cast in bronze.