Artist Wendy White holds artist lecture at the University of Alabama
American artist Wendy White visited the University of Alabama as part of UA’s Department of Art and Art History Visiting Artist and Scholar Lecture Series.
By Zoe Norberg
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – American artist Wendy White creates paintings that rebel against the technical norm. On Feb. 27, White visited the University of Alabama to give a lecture about her history as an artist and the evolution of her style since the beginning of her career.
The lecture began with White discussing her early years as an artist, from her initial academic roots working with fibers and materials to her graduate irreverence toward technical painting.
As part of her rebellion against technical painting styles, many of White’s early works included multiple canvases, aggressive marks, hints of text and sculptural appendages — all elements that have carried over into her modern artwork. These themes were prevalent in her first New York art show at Leo Koenig Gallery in 2008. White said this show helped to affirm her style because of the self-assurance it gave her as an artist.
“This was 2008, so I had 16-foot paintings in my debut show in New York when the market crashed,” White said. “So, it was kind of unintentional — but sort of badass — that I had these completely unsellable, massive, aggressive things in a gallery for my first show, which I think sort of cemented me as kind of an outlier.”
White soon began to explore the use of text in her paintings, creating works that had canvas-wrapped, quasi-abstract letterforms attached to the outer edges of the canvas. University of Alabama art major Taylor Pilleteri said this unique technique is one of the most interesting parts of White’s work.
“[I like] how she manipulates the canvas and how she would sometimes go outside of the frame with her painting instead of keeping it confined,” Pilleteri said.
The handmade text appendages on the canvas were originally inspired by Scandinavian functionalist architecture, which was the first style to incorporate free-standing signage. White said she found inspiration in signage because of its ability to be both structural and meaningful.
“I wanted something concrete but not literal, and text was a way to kind of use the word as the content, so the word itself became the architecture of the composition, and then also the content of the work — the meaning of the word literally became the idea,” White said.
White discussed how she soon began to experiment with image appropriation in her work, painting over inkjet photographs of female athletes and successful women, and juxtaposing these images alongside iconography reminiscent of the Lisa Frank designs she recalls from her youth. These portraits were the beginning of an era of social and political commentary in White’s work. Anna Lee Fuller, a math major at UA, said that this commentary is part of what draws people like her who don’t have an art background to White’s art.
“All of the thought process and the anthropological study that she obviously puts into her work. . . you can just tell that she’s a philosophical thinker in her daily life,” Fuller said.
After years of style transformations and exploring her different ongoing series, White is experimenting with painting, image appropriation, denim and icons. Her most recent show, titled “Loves,” is at the SCAD Atlanta Gallery 1600 through June 18. “Loves” focuses on the relationship between national parks, the United States’ co-dependence on the oil and gas industry, and the myth of Manifest Destiny.
“It’s also a very timely metaphor for our current state of kind of late-capitalist energy dependence, while we simultaneously try to get a handle on global warming, climate change and all of this while our national parks are being chopped up and sold off to the highest bidder,” White said.