Artist of the Month: Christian White
By Irene Ruddock
If you only attend one gallery exhibit this summer, make it the stunning collection of new paintings by Christian White showing at The Atelier at Flowerfield in St. James this month. White is a multitalented artist creating works in stone, watercolor, graphite, gouache, trompe l’oeil, egg tempera and, of course, his ever popular luscious color-saturated oils paintings.
Your exhibit of new paintings has been described as ‘breathtaking.’ Do you have a favorite piece?
These paintings are an attempt to find something new in subjects that I have painted often over my career. I never really have a favorite piece, I am more interested in how the paintings look together, and I am very happy with how these look as a group.
You refer to yourself as a colorist. What is your secret to creating such pure, clean color that exudes light and atmosphere so well? How do you prepare for painting large pieces?
I believe that if one uses color, it should have a purpose, that is, a decorative, thematic and expressive function in the picture. I have no real secrets to my color ideas, except that I have studied the subject a great deal. I do have certain ways of preparing colors in advance when working on large pieces, which are partly influenced by certain modernist and abstract painters.
You have such a remarkable heritage with five generations of famous painters, architects, poets, sculptors, etc. Who do you admire and learn from most in your family line?
I learned a great deal from everyone in my family who I knew personally. It is hard to say which part of one’s education is most important; I believe everything one learns contributes to who you are. I admired my father, Robert White, a great deal and spent much of my youth learning from him by example. I also admired my maternal grandfather, Joep Nicolas, a lot. I studied with him briefly in Holland, as well as with my aunt, Sylvia Nicolas, and a Japanese sculptor named Shinkichi Tajiri. Joep had a facility and imagination that I never felt I would attain, so yes, I admired that very much, but all of them had important lessons to give.
Is there a present-day artist who you hold in esteem and would like to meet?
I think I would say the South African artist, William Kentridge. He has an originality which I find engrossing and magical, and although he uses some modern technology, most of his work is just charcoal on paper, I love that he creates such original work with such a simple medium.
Which is your favorite art museum? Is there an art museum that you would like to visit but haven’t yet?
For most of my life I would have said: The Frick. But now I probably spend more of my time at MoMA. I would love to see the Prado some day.
Japanese Maple #2 appears to be a joyfully abstract painting that exudes the wonder and brilliance of autumn. Can you explain a bit about your abstract paintings vs. your more traditional approach?
That is one of several paintings where I have tried to bring exterior space and structure forward into the room, like a window moved forward perhaps. I do not exactly consider these paintings abstract, although I have borrowed some ideas from abstract painters, and I suppose there is a certain feeling akin to “action painting” in its execution.
The painting ‘Harbor, March’ created quite a stir. What do you think makes it so universally inviting?
That painting was based on a smaller study that I did on a very warm, still day in March last year. I was trying to describe the unusual color of the air that day. I am often trying to capture a familiar subject in a new light. I think the scale of this one gives it a more specific mood, perhaps.
It’s hard to surpass your superb draftsmanship. Would you consider an exhibit with just your graphite drawings? Do you draw with your brush while painting in oils?
I consider drawing to be the basic skill and language that artists use to communicate. In recent years I have become more interested in producing drawings as objects of art, so yes, someday I may have an exhibit of just drawings. Am I drawing with the brush when I paint? Absolutely.
You are presently teaching at The Atelier. Can you tell us why you were drawn to teach and exhibit there?
I was intrigued by the idea of a school that would give students solid foundational skills, in an organized studio setting. I think an emphasis on teaching drawing skills (not just copying from two dimensions) is crucial, though difficult, toward making better artists.
You’ve said that you were influenced by the Southampton artist, Fairfield Porter, a friend of your father. What did you learn from him?
He was also very close to my mother (they were both art critics). Mostly I was influenced by his work, his ability to make realism look so much like modernism, his insistence on making every color a design decision and the way he simplified the subject, without making it any less immediate. Those were things I wanted to do as well.
The Atelier at Flowerfield, 2 Flowerfield, Suite 15, St. James will present the exhibition Christian White: Recent Works through Aug. 31. Gallery hours are Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., closed Sundays. For more information, please call 631-250-9009 or visit www.atelierflowerfield.org.