By Elizabeth Kahn Kaplan
The versatility as well as the talent of artist Christian White can be seen in his paintings and works on paper at Gallery North’s current solo exhibit. White comes by his talent naturally and, through training, hard work and self-discipline, has created a body of work over the past 50 years.
His paternal great-grandfather, Stanford White, designed the triumphal arch at Washington Square in Manhattan, among many notable architectural achievements. His paternal grandfather, Lawrence White, was a prominent architect and president of the National Academy of Design. His maternal grandfather, the Dutch artist Joep Nicolas, fostered White’s talent during his early years in Holland, where the young artist studied welding, stained glass and mosaics. He learned the sculptor’s skills while assisting his father, noted sculptor Robert White. His mother, the poet Claire Nicolas White, encouraged his ability to see beauty in the ordinary.
The title of the current exhibit at Gallery North, “Christian White: Fifty Years of Art,” may be misleading to those expecting to see a retrospective of works produced during the artist’s long and productive career. This is not a retrospective exhibit. Rather, White terms it as “introspective” in that it includes personal pieces — portraits of himself and his family and landscapes of places close to him. It includes paintings, drawings and prints, many of them figurative. In the words of the artist, “Many of the clientele at Gallery North identify me as a landscape painter, not a figure painter, but I’ve been a figurative artist throughout my entire career.”
The works are not hung chronologically, this not being a retrospective exhibition. With but a few exceptions, they were created during the past 15 years. A master of trompe l’oeil (fool the eye) painting, White’s “Alcove,” still life (2001), tempts one to reach out and touch the three-dimensional-appearing brightly painted objects inside the frame of painted pine. In White’s compelling “Self-Portrait” (2003), we meet his rather questioning direct gaze.
But as interesting and attention demanding as these two works are, what we may recall most clearly are paintings that reveal White’s great talent for capturing light and atmosphere — specifically, bright sunlight beating down on a hot summer day. We feel the summer midday heat in the bright blue sky that dominates more than half the canvas above the stretch of sand in “Ocean Beach” (2008). It is devoid of people and, therefore, of shadows, as low whitecaps meet the shore.
“Road/River #9” (2011) is uninhabited, too, and no wonder; the brilliant light, caused by a blazing sun beating down on the unforgiving macadam road, hints at a temperature above 90 degrees. The blues of sky and water and the yellow sand in “Short Beach Lifeguard Station” (2012) take second place to the sun-drenched bright white lifeguard chair, with its occupant painted loosely in attention-getting red as she watches a man — a mere dab of white paint — in a motor boat in the distance. Loosely painted small figures of a couple crowd the shade under a bright red and white umbrella, taking cover from the blazing sun.
In “Clematis #2” (2015) White provides closeups of brilliant white and vivid pink flowers as they cast shadows on a bright green lawn sparkling in the noonday sun. Light is a vital element in each of these landscapes.
Christian White: Fifty Years of Art will be on view at Gallery North, 90 North Country Road, Setauket, through July 10. Gallery hours are Tuesday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. Don’t miss it. If you go this Sunday afternoon, June 28, you can also catch an ArTalk by the artist, with Franklin Perrell, an art expert and former curator at the Nassau County Museum of Art in Roslyn. Registration is required for the ArTalk by calling 631-751-2676. For more information, visit www.gallerynorth.org.