Wendy White is a contemporary artist who manages to create a consistent aesthetic from a wide range of interests—athletics, branding and architecture, to name a few. Born in Deep River, Conn., White received her MFA from Rutgers University in 2003. For her solo exhibition "Double Vanity" at Sherrick & Paul in Nashville, Tenn. (Apr. 30-June 13), White debuts new textile-based works and atmospheric canvases framed in gold mirror. Dividing the space in half and covering the floor in wall-to-wall white carpet, the artist re-imagines the gallery with works that examine our social conceptions of domestic space. A former staffer at David Zwirner and Marian Goodman, Susan Sherrick is cracking open the Nashville scene with a roster that also includes Katy Grannan, Barry McGee and Marcel Dzama.
White recently spoke with A.i.A about machismo, Technicolor and whether anything exciting can still happen on a traditional canvas.
JASON STOPA For your show "Double Vanity," you highlight how we construct space. The paintings and installations reflect social spaces—crowd scenes—as well as domestic spaces like sitting rooms and "man caves." Why are you interested in these self-constructed spaces by and for men?
WENDY WHITE The man cave as a manifestation of antiquated macho desire became an operative theme for me, beginning with a designated space in my last show [at David Castillo Gallery in Miami] where all of the paintings depicted male athletes either crying or injured. TV shows like House Hunters dramatize an entire industry built on manufactured domestic needs and old-fashioned, gender-specific desires. The script rarely changes. The man wants a garage or basement where he can "play his music" and the woman jokes about the closet only being big enough for her stuff and not his. Is it supposed to be funny or endearing that we've defaulted to championing stock male/female desires in a world where gender is increasingly non-normative? Not to mention the fact that home-improvement shows and commercials insist that every person alive simply cannot live without granite countertops and stainless steel appliances, which are so clearly the avocado-colored fridges of the future.
STOPA The work nods to these ideas of domesticity—the carpets rest on the floor, the rugs sit in front of paintings as a footer, inviting the audience to sit on them. How did you arrive at working with carpet and how do you go about manipulating it to your own ends?
WHITE The rugs are like a Lynda Benglis latex pour painting vis-à-vis the mat in front of your kitchen sink: symbolic of the action of painting, but also utilitarian and familiar. Also, a rug is the thing we used to congregate on to watch TV—a personal viewing space that is now pretty much a thing of the past.
I often incorporate ink-jet photos as a foil to the tactility of my paintings. For example, I did a show based on similarities between my gym in Chinatown and soccer players faking injuries. It was a specific take on the human experience—on aging, on trying—that needed a hybrid object in order to drive the concept home. I always want paintings in the mix, but they increasingly fail to sum things up for me by themselves.
The way I make the paintings is similar to Technicolor, or one of those screens that you could tape onto your black-and-white TV in the ‘60s that had a strip of blue at the top and brown at the bottom and worked great if you only wanted to watch westerns. I start with color photos, drain them to black-and-white, then print them large-scale and paint color back in. The process became one of enhancing versus adulterating and deciding what parts of the photos to leave alone. In the end it felt vaguely irresponsible to have the object not embody that process. I wanted to show the color running back off the photo and onto the floor.
STOPA Your gradients, whether on carpet, mirror or paintings, are seamlessly blended. Sometimes the technique works to diffuse an image, other times to enhance it. When did you begin this practice? How do you go about choosing the color? Is there a relationship to Instagram and photographic tool software?
WHITE I don't know. Maybe. For me it's all about edges—how and where things meet. With an airbrush, gradients happen pretty naturally as paint trails off. It's magic. It never gets old to watch paint fall against a surface and slowly build up to something. However, because it's a specific tool that is immediately associated with car detailing and beach t-shirts, I stay away from modeling and volumetric effects. I love that stuff, but I'm into "sunset" rather than "depiction of sunset," if you know what I mean.
STOPA The dripping mirror-framed paintings are the inverse of a traditional mirror, with the edges as reflective surface and the center largely blank. Yet, there is still an attempt on the part of the audience to be seen, which speaks to the extent one will go to "see" oneself. I find these works an interesting counterpart to, say, Jeff Koons's mirror works, which seem to celebrate vanity.
WHITE The mirror paintings play on flatness and the cliché of pictorial space as the place where the action is supposed to happen. In a way, I think all my work challenges the very basic notion that anything truly exciting can happen within the stupid rectangle. I like putting painting in a subservient position, making it surrender to the bigger picture—a frame, the architecture of the gallery, a fabricated sign or an abutting photograph. For me, that intersection is where larger meaning resides.